SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – It has been a historic season of firsts for the Utah women’s basketball team, and the 8th-ranked Utes hope to continue it deep into the NCAA Tournament.

It will have been 15 days since the Utes last played, a disappointing loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 Tournament on March 2nd. Utah has been chomping at the bit to get back on the court.

“Everybody hates to lose,” said Pac-12 Player of the Year Alissa Pili. “We definitely wish we could have made it further, but it happened and we can’t do anything about it. So we just take every situation and make the best out of it.”

“Obviously coming off the unfortunate loss to Washington State, it was a long wait,” added guard Gianna Kneepkens. “Now we’re excited, we know who we’re playing and it feels more like, let’s go and play a game.”

The Utes are hoping not to come out rusty when they take on Gardner-Webb Friday night at the Huntsman Center, as they host an NCAA Tournament game for the first time ever.

“The last week has been long,” said head coach Lynne Roberts. “Not in a bad way. Just you don’t know who you’re playing, you don’t know when you’re playing, you don’t know what your seed will be. But I think our team has done a good job of staying focused and staying in the moment.”

During this off time, the Utes have been ramping up the competition in practice.

“Practices are great but every competitor wants to play games,” added Kneepkens. “So finally being able to see and scout who we’re going to play is exciting.”

“Practices have been more like how they were in the preseason just getting that intensity and competitiveness back in practice is,” Pili said. “It was tough, but I think it will help us in the long run.”

After suffering just its fourth loss of the season, the Utes want to get their swagger back, as they look for two wins at home to advance to the Sweet 16 next weekend in Seattle.

“I think we all know what we’re capable of,” Kneepens said. “We didn’t live to our potential, and we all know that. I think it gives us a little more of a chip on our shoulder because we know what we need to do.”

“Knowing we’re a great team, we’ve proved it over and over again,” added Pili. “We say a lot that when we play together and we’re in our groove, there’s not many teams that can stop us. So just knowing that and being confident is really what keeps us going.”

The furthest a Utah women’s team has ever advanced in the NCAA Tournament is the Elite 8 back in 2006. This Utes team has the talent to go at least that far, and the plan for the next few days is simple.

“We’ll take Tuesday off, get our legs ready and then Wednesday will be the heavy, kind of here we go, here’s who we’re playing,” Roberts said. “Thursday kind of pregame, and then Friday, here we go.”