Utah women’s basketball: Utes advances to Pac-12 tournament semifinals

Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts says the Utes are having fun and doing well this season because they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Now the rest of the Pac-12 is going to have to start taking Roberts’ program seriously, because the Utes accomplished something Thursday night in Las Vegas that they’ve never done before.

Freshman Jenna Johnson scored 19 points and junior Brynna Maxwell added 11 as Utah upset Washington State 70-59 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center to advance to the semis for the first time. -conference tournament final, after joining the Pac-12 in 2011. .

Sixth-seeded Utah (19-10) will face second-seeded Oregon on Friday night at 9:30 p.m. MST. The Ducks advanced with a 63-60 win over UCLA in one of Thursday’s other quarterfinals.

“I’m not ready to be done, that’s for sure,” Roberts told the Pac-12 Network. “We’re going to keep pushing this thing forward.”

Roberts, in her seventh season, worried before the game that third-seeded Wazzu would have six days to prepare for the Utes, after earning a first-round bye as one of the top four conference game teams. But those fears didn’t materialize, as Utah led for almost 56 seconds.

“We’re the underdogs coming out, so we like it and we’re going to keep going,” said main point guard Dru Gylten.

However, not everything went smoothly for the Utes. Sophomore Peyton McFarland went down grabbing her right knee with nine minutes left in the second quarter and did not return. Starting out, McFarland is averaging 6.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

The size of the 6-foot-4 striker will be needed relative to UO’s size and strength on the inside. She came back to the bench in the second half and watched the rout with an ice pack on her right knee.

Utah led by a whopping 24 points in the fourth quarter, 65-41, before the WSU rallied in record time.

Tara Wallack had a career-high 16 points for Washington State, but the Cougars were limited to 37 percent shooting and could never get their offense on track against the defense-conscious Utes.

The Leger-Walker sisters of Wazzu were held to 10 combined points on a 4-of-24 combined shooting effort by Utah defensive ace Kennady McQueen and others.

“I have fun knocking out the best player on the other team and I know those guys have my back if I’m beaten. It’s easy to know those guys have my back,” said McQueen, who added eight points and four rebounds.

Wallack scored the first field goal of the game, but after that it was all Utes. The Utes scored a Pac-12 tournament record 29 points in the first quarter to take a 16-point lead.

A 15-0 run did the trick, along with 8 of 13 shots from deep in the first half.

“Keep your foot on the accelerator,” Roberts urged his team in the group at the break. “Do not let go.”

They did not do it.

Consecutive 3-pointers from McQueen, Gianna Kneepkens (her first and only field goal of the first half) and Johnson and a Kelsey Rees layup sent the Utes into the half with a 45-25 lead.

The Utes shot 57% in the first half, while holding the Cougars to 35%.

Johnson had 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first half, a night after scoring 20 points in Utah’s 66-60 first-round win over Cal.

Utah cooled offensively in the second half, but refused to let up on defense.

Washington State opened the third quarter on a 9-2 run, but Kneepkens came to life after a slow first half and carried the Utes into the third quarter. After scoring 18 goals on Wednesday, the Duluth, Minnesota native scored nine on Thursday.

Johanna Teder’s triple cut the Cougars’ deficit to 12 midway through the third, but Brynna Maxwell gave the Utes a boost to quell the uprising.

“I’m really proud of our team,” said Maxwell, who started every game the first two years of his career but is now coming off the bench. “Our whole team performed very well.”

Roberts said she had “the most fun for as long as I can remember” as a coach.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s been such a fun year. They joined, did everything we asked them to do. … Seeing the joy on their faces is the best part of being a coach.

25th-ranked Oregon beat Utah twice in the regular season, but both games were close. The Ducks won 70-66 at Eugene on Jan. 26 and 73-65 at the Huntsman Center on Feb. 26.

“Utah looks awesome,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves told the Pac-12 Network at halftime.

If the Utes beat the Ducks, they will face the winner of Stanford-Colorado in the tournament championship game, which is scheduled for Sunday.