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Home Stretch — Episode 5: Utah Women’s Basketball Season Preview

In this episode of Home Stretch, sports writer Isaac Dunaway sits down with podcast producer Stevie Shaughnessey to talk about what he is expecting to see during the 2023-2024 Utah Women’s Basketball season.
Mary Allen


Stevie Shaughnessey: Hi and welcome back to Home Stretch, the Daily Utah Chronicle’s sports podcast. My name is Stevie and I’ll be your host. Today, sports writer Isaac Dunaway is joining us to talk about the women’s basketball team exhibition game against Colorado State Pueblo, and to give us a little season preview. So, during the exhibition game, what were some things that you noticed? 

Isaac Dunaway: Um, yeah, well, I think, I think obviously, you need to take everything with a bit of a grain of salt in exhibition games. It’s just more of like a warm-up really than anything for the season. But yeah, I mean, the team looked good. The three-point shooting in particular, looked really good both in their first game against CSU Pueblo, and the second one against Northwest Nazarene. In the first half in the second game, they shot 60% from three, which is wild, and yeah, three-point shooting is really important for how the Utes run their offense. They love to just fly up and down the court, shoot a lot of threes, make a lot of threes. So seeing, seeing the shots go down at such a high rate was encouraging for sure.

Stevie Shaughnessey: And I know right now that the women’s basketball team is ranked fifth in the nation. Did this exhibition game give you any clues as to how the women’s basketball season will go?

Isaac Dunaway: I don’t think there’s much from the games to really sway you either direction. They just went out there and, and did what they were supposed to do, really. They were — this team is returning a lot of players and they’re also returning a lot of players who were contributors last season, like, I think the starting lineup is going to be the exact same as last season. A lot of players from the bench are back. Yeah, they, like I said earlier, they were really just flying up and down the court, passing the ball around, spreading the wealth, you know, and that’s, that’s how, that’s how Coach Roberts likes to see her offense run. That’s what they’ve been doing the last few years and it’s worked great. So yeah, I’m just excited to see how they do once, like, the actual season starts.

Stevie Shaughnessey: I know last season, the women’s basketball team had an amazing season. They went 27-5 overall and had not a single loss at home. What do you think is gonna happen this season?

Isaac Dunaway: Yeah, I think it’s — I think we’re in for a lot of, a lot of similarities from last season. I think it’s going to be really fun. Like you said, they’re coming off of a really successful year last year where they won a share of the Pac-12 regular season title. They split it with Stanford, if I remember correctly, and were just this close to getting into the Elite Eight and the NCAA tournament. They played LSU in their Sweet 16 game, and LSU went on to win the national championship and Utah gave them their closest call in the entire tournament. As you said as well, they ranked fifth in the AP poll to start the year, so it’s really cool to see how much attention this team is getting nationally and how much respect and hype the program is starting to get.

Stevie Shaughnessey: What do you think that their strengths and weaknesses will be this year?

Isaac Dunaway: Like I said, I think it’s going to be a lot of the same from the last couple of years. They play a really similar style of basketball to the Golden State Warriors of the NBA and the Warriors have had an insane run of success the last decade or so. They play unselfish. The Utes loved to run up and down the floor in transition. They play fast-paced. They pass the ball around. They love to pass up good looks for great looks, and obviously like I said the three-point shooting is, is really fun to watch as well. Yeah, head coach Lynne Roberts, she’s, she’s done a tremendous job of building her program, not necessarily around what she wants to do, but adjusting and designing her scheme to fit the strengths of the players. I think really my only concern or question coming into this season is the size and the interior defense. Last season, the Utes lost their best interior defender, who was Kelsey Rees. She transferred to Oregon State, and I’m not sure exactly who’s going to step up and take that role. They loved to sub her in when they needed to protect the rim and that’s what her strengths were the last couple of years, her time with the program and yeah. We’ll have to see what Coach Roberts does to adjust to her absence, who steps into that role, but other than that, this team is going to be really, really good.

Stevie Shaughnessey: I know you mentioned that the team lost Kelsey Rees. This year, who do you think key players will be?

Isaac Dunaway: Yeah, like I said they, the starting lineup should be pretty much identical to last year. The star player, or one of the star players, is Alissa Pili. She was, she broke out last year with the team as her, it was her first year with the team after transferring from USC. She led the Utes in scoring last year and I imagine will do so again. She’s the go-to player a lot of the time. She’s insane. She can score from anywhere on the court. She’s dominant inside, her three-point shooting is really, really impressive as well. So yeah, I’m also, there’s also a feature coming out soon in our, in the Chronicle’s upcoming print edition. I interviewed Pili yesterday and she, she was great. I’m really excited to put that together and put it out in the print edition, so make sure to check that out when it, the print edition comes out, I believe on Nov. 20. Somewhere around there. But yeah, getting into the rest of the team, Gianna Kneepkens is another really, really good player. She’s kind of more of an outside scorer compared to Pili. I mean, she’s, Kneepkens plays guard. Pili plays forward. They play off each other super, super well. Kneepkens is probably the best three-point shooter on the team. She’s one of the best, both in the conference and the country as a whole. She rises up to the occasion, like, when things are getting tough. When the Utes just need someone to take the ball and go get a bucket, Kneepkens does that really, really well. Yeah, the rest of the starting lineup, I believe will be Isabel Palmer, Jenna Johnson and Kennady McQueen, who were all starters last year. They’re all really important pieces to this team. The bench should be pretty similar to last year as well. There are a few players that left from last year and some new players coming in, so the bench, it might be a little different. We’ll have to see. But yeah, I’m expecting a lot of the same from last year.

Stevie Shaughnessey: How do you think that this season will differ from last season?

Isaac Dunaway: I think there’s going to be a lot of continuity from last year into this year. The starting lineup is probably going to be the same. There’s a lot of players back. One, one new player I’m really looking forward to seeing is freshman forward Reese Ross. She really stood out in two preseason games, especially the second one. She put up 25 points and 13 rebounds against Northwest Nazarene, which was really impressive. She scored really well both inside and outside, hitting her three-pointers at a good clip. She got a lot of layups and easy shots inside as well. So she’s, she’s someone I’m excited to see how she does this year. I think, I think she has the potential to really make a difference.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Great, Isaac. Well, thank you so much for your thoughts today. I know that the season starts for the Women’s Basketball team on Monday, Nov. 6. Is there anything else you want to add about how you think the season might go or any final thoughts?

Isaac Dunaway: Yeah, it’s gonna be a really, really fun season. This is probably the most hyped season for Utah women’s basketball in a long time. They have a lot of really exciting games to look forward to. They host BYU on Dec. 2. They play South Carolina just over a week later on the tenth of December and South Carolina is a powerhouse in women’s basketball. That’s going to be a really fun game to watch. And then getting into conference play, the Pac-12 is tough. Stanford is always really good. Both Arizona and UCLA should be good as well. I believe Arizona State’s ranked, or not Arizona State. I believe UCLA is ranked four in the AP poll in the preseason. So it’s gonna be a tough schedule, but I think Utah is up for the task. I mean, this team is as good as anybody, at least in the Pac-12, but probably in the nation as well.

Stevie Shaughnessey: Great. Well, thank you so much, Isaac, for coming on the podcast today.

Isaac Dunaway: Yeah, thank you so much for having me on.

Stevie Shaughnessey: And thank you for listening to Home Stretch, the Daily Utah Chronicle’s sports podcast. Stay tuned for new episodes coming every other Tuesday.


Transcribed by

Producer and Host: Stevie Shaughnessey —  [email protected]   | @steviechrony

Guest: Isaac Dunaway — [email protected] | @i_dunaway

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About the Contributors
Stevie Shaughnessey, Home Stretch Producer, Host
Stevie is a junior transfer student at the U who is majoring in communications with an emphasis in journalism, and minoring in documentary studies. In her free time, Stevie likes to take part in many different activities, such as dirt bike riding, snowboarding and photography.
Mary Allen, Design Director
(she/her) Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Mary is thrilled to be here at the University of Utah studying graphic design. She feels very lucky to get to rub shoulders with the talented people that make up the team here at the Chronicle and is learning a lot from them every day. Other than making things look cute, Mary’s passions include music, pickleball, Diet Coke, wildlife protection, and the Boston Red Sox.

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