Pac-12 preview: the University of Utah

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

The Utah Utes completed their second season with head coach Lynne Roberts in 2016-2017 by earning a second consecutive trip to the WNIT. They opened their season strong, winning their first 11 games to head into Pac-12 action undefeated. But in entering the conference with the toughest RPI in the nation, the Utes finished with a 5-13 league and 16-15 overall record.

They outrebounded opponents in 16 games last season, ranking fourth in the conference with 41.26 rebounds per game. The trend can be attributed to wing Emily Potter, who ended the year seventh in the Pac-12 with 7.3 rebounds per game.

Potter, a redshirt senior this year, is not the only starter that returns, as senior wing Tanaeya Boclair (10.1 points per game) and junior point guard Erika Bean (5.6 assists per game, third in the conference) are also back.

Utah also returns sophomore guard Kianna Moore, sophomore wing Megan Jacobs, redshirt junior forward Megan Huff, junior wing Daneesha Provo, senior forward Wendy Anae, and senior guard Tilar Clark.

Freshmen newcomers include guard Jordan Cruz, guard Tori Williams, forward Elli Koskinen, guard Dru Gylten, forward Arianna LaLonde, and forward Maurane Corbin.

Roberts is hopeful about the class.

“We’re going to need them,” she said.  “Tori Williams, a guard out of Idaho, a freshman, she was the big Idaho State Player of the Year, very highly-recruited. She can score. She’s got a good feel for the game. We’re going to need her to play.”

“Then Corbin, we were talking about Mo Corbin, I think she’s going to be an impact player for us too. She’s a freshman, but she just plays so dang hard. She’s still learning…..she has nose to the ball and plays her tail off. So she’s going to make plays regardless. So she’s a little ahead of the game, farther than I thought she’d be.”

Roberts said the mixture of veterans and newcomers bode well for the season.

“So we’re a little deeper than we’ve been, we can shoot the ball better, and I’m cautiously optimistic,” she said.

The Utes last year graduated top scorer Paige Crozon, and lost second-leading scorer Malia Nawahine to transfer.

With the number of new players, Roberts was faced with the task of joining everyone together as one. She and her coaches took the team to Italy, where they worked vigorously on and off the court.

“I think the Italy trip helped us bond and get that much closer as a team,” Potter said. “It’s only October, but we’ve been together so long already it feels like we’re mid-season team-wise. We’re all definitely really close.”

Roberts said she is excited to hit the court.

“This feels like my program,” Roberts said, “So looking forward to the year. I think at this point in October, every program is full of enthusiasm and optimism and all of that. We’re no different in that. So we’re looking forward to getting going.”