SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – With a record of 22-2, the Utah women’s basketball team is having their best season ever. And the national media is paying attention, as the Utes are ranked #4 in the nation, its highest ranking in school history.
“We’re playing confidently.” said sophomore guard Kennady McQueen. “I think we deserve it for sure and we’re finally getting some recognition for Utah women’s basketball. It’s always nice to see. Starting in the top-25, and then making our way up to the top-5, I don’t know if anyone of us saw that coming, but we knew we were good.”
“Obviously this is some unchartered waters that this program has never been through,” added point guard Gianna Kneepkens. “It’s definitely new, but I’m super confident in us and how we’ve been playing.”
Right now, the Utes are being projected as a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. But with games against #18 Arizona on Friday and #3 Stanford next week, if Utah keeps winning, a #1 seed is entirely possible. If Utah ends up being a top-4 seed, they will host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
“I can get lost thinking about all that,” said head coach Lynne Roberts. “Our goal coming into the season was to host the first and second round, and we’re in a great position to do that.”
“That’s always the goal and we definitely want to set ourselves up for as much success as we can come March,” added McQueen. “So a 1-seed just makes that path maybe a little easier.”
Four years ago, the Utes started the year 18-1, but then lost 9 of 11 and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. This team has handled success very well. The Utes know they’re getting every team’s best shot, which will only get them battled tested come March.
“Experience helps, and this team made it to the tournament last year,” Roberts said. “I think the secret sauce for this team is their composure. They’re just so even-keeled. In those tight games, maybe in previous years, we would get a little tight. But these guys just don’t get tight.”
Case in point, Utah lost a 17-point lead to Oregon State a couple weeks ago, but regrouped to beat the Beavers in overtime on the road.
“I told the team that I’m glad that happened,” Roberts said. “That’s more of an NCAA Tournament game than to win by 20 comfortably. You learn by those experiences.”
“We’re all competitors, so we love playing teams are their best,” Kneepkens said. “We want to get them when they’re shooting their best so when we beat them, it feels really validating.”
“When you’re looked at as the top dog, that’s going to be everyone’s goal to pull off an upset,” said McQueen. “Going to play Arizona, who is a great team, they’re supposed to have a sold out crowd. So that’s an environment that is going to get us ready for March and those big games.”