SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Coming into this season, the Utes women’s basketball team knew it had talent. But going 14-0 to start in the season, earning its highest ranking in school history at #8 in the country? Even they didn’t see this coming.
“We knew we were going to be good,” said guard Kennady McQueen. “We expected a top-25 at some point. But I think this is a testament to how hard we’ve worked. Growing up if you see a top-10 ranking next a team, you’re like, ‘wow, they’re good.’ And now, that’s us.”
“You can’t start much better than we have in terms of record,” said head coach Lynne Roberts, now in her eighth season at the helm. “But as coaches, we’re crazy by nature. So there’s a lot of things we need to get better at and improve upon.”
The Utes are having a fantastic statistical season as well. Utah is third in the nation in scoring (88.7), third in scoring margin (30.6), second in field goal percentage (50.9), and fourth in assists (20.1).
Utah’s most impressive win came on November 16th when they blew out #16 Oklahoma, 124-78. But with five ranked teams in the Pac-12, things are about to get a lot tougher as Utah enters the heart of conference play.
“If you want to be top-10, then you’ve got to pay rent,” Roberts said. “You’ve got to work harder than everybody else because everyone wants to beat you. So you get everybody’s best.”
The Utes are experienced, but young. There’s not a single senior on the roster. But making it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year has given the Utes confidence this season.
“Last year gave us a lot of experience,” said guard Gianna Kneepkens. “None of us had been in any position of what we went through last year. Now we’re still young and experienced, which is really special.”
McQueen really appreciates Utah’s rise. Her mom Melanee played for Utah, so she knows how far this program has come.
“Yes for sure,” McQueen said. “When she played here, they weren’t in the Pac-12. But growing up, coming to games and seeing when Utah entered the Pac-12 starting with struggles. The Pac-12 is a tough league, adjusting to that, and I think we’ve finally made that adjustment.”
USC transfer Alyssa Pili has been a great addition, leading the Utes in scoring at over 19 points per game. She was just named a to the top-25 midseason watch list for the Wooden Award, given to the nation’s top player.
“Putting in the work early helped me a lot,” Pili said. “When the season started, I fit in right away and I think the sky is the limit for this team. We’re really stacked at every position.”
Now that they’re a top-10 team and being projected as a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament according to ESPN’s Bracketology, there is no need to worry about the Utes getting overconfident.
“As long as I’m around, they’re not going to get too full of themselves,” Roberts said with a smile. “I promise you that. We’ve always got work to do.”
“That just shows what kind of person Coach Lynne is,” Pili added. “She keeps us all level-headed and humble.”
“We have to stay level-headed,” said Kneepkens. “Because we know how egos can get in the way of success.”
Utah is two wins away from tying the best start in school history with the 1997-98 team. The Utes play at Colorado Friday, then return home to play Arizona State January 13th and #15 Arizona January 15th.