Pac-12 preview: University of Utah

This is the tenth in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams.

Utah is learning to swim with the bigger fish in the Pac-12 Conference, and last year they had a good start. The Utes were 16-16 overall, 8-10 in conference for a seventh place tie, and they went to the WNIT Tournament.

This season, third-year Coach Anthony Levrets plans to take the team to the next level with four returning starters – including a 2012 Olympian – and four promising newcomers.

Junior forward Michelle Plouffe (14.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg) played in the Olympics for Canada this past summer, and helped her nation’s team reach the quarterfinals for the first time in history. Other returning starters include junior forward Taryn Wicijowski (13.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg); senior guard Iwalani Rodrigues (10.8 ppg); and senior guard Rachel Messer (5.1 ppg). Notable reserve Cheyenne Wilson, a sophomore guard, is also back.

Utah’s four freshmen include two international players: Awa Kalmstrom, from Stockholm, Sweden, and Paige Crozon, from Humboldt, Saskatchewan. Both are guards, and each has spent time training with their respective national teams.

Freshman forward Nakia Arquette comes from Spokane, Wash., and guard Danielle Rodriguez hails from Downey, Calif. Arquette was two-time and Rodriguez three-time all league at their schools.

Sophomore guard Ciera Dunbar is back after redshirting last season. She played in 28 games as a freshman.

The Utes lost four players last year. Besides this year’s freshmen, they gained forward Krystal Forthan, a transfer from Louisiana State University who will sit out this season as per NCAA transfer rules.

The roster includes no centers, but Plouffe, at 6-foot-4 and Wicijowski, who stands 6-foot-3, seem to make F + F = getting the job done. Utah runs a bit short after that, as the only other players over six feet are Arquette and Crozon, who will have a learning curve.

This Utah squad is guard-heavy (eight in all), with only three that have proven scoring potential. The others will have to learn fast and step up.

Notable preseason opponents are Michigan, Weber State, Hawai’i and BYU.