If you ask Utah head coach Lynne Roberts, she'll be the first to let you know that the Pac-12 is the deepest and most talented conference in women's basketball.
And she's not wrong.
Over the past 4-5 years and on any given weekend split, you'll find yourself facing a nationally ranked team in one game and another just as capable as pulling off the victory in the other game.
That hasn't changed this season and Roberts knows it. To begin the season, the Utes faced nationally-ranked Oregon and Oregon State. That was followed by games against Arizona State and nationally-ranked Arizona. Then came a split with Washington and nationally-ranked Washington State. Finally, the Utes just got done traveling to Los Angeles where they faced USC and nationally-ranked UCLA.
Altogether Utah finds itself 2-7 in Pac-12 play, with four of those games coming against teams then-ranked top-15 in the nation and Washington State, who is now nationally-ranked.
A break would be nice, but that won't happen this weekend as Roberts and the Utes will welcome No. 1 Stanford and Cal to the Jon M. Huntsman Center. Utah will host the top-ranked Cardinal on Friday at 1:30 p.m. before facing the Golden Bears on Sunday at 12 p.m.
“You just kind of get used to playing these teams, these top-10 teams,” Roberts said. “There’s definitely a level of respect. It’s Stanford, it’s Tara and what she’s achieved in her career. There’s a level of that, but it doesn’t feel any different than playing at UCLA or playing at Oregon. It all kind of runs together I guess.”
The Utes are coming off a tough weekend when they fell to both USC (60-59) and No. 9 UCLA (92-67).
Against the Trojans, the Utes led for most of the game until a three-minute mental lapse midway through the fourth quarter saw them go from leading by five to trailing by five. Still, the team had a chance to win in at the end when star shooting guard Brynna Maxwell had a wide open three-pointer at the buzzer, but it barely missed its mark.
"I'm good with that," Roberts said of Maxwell getting the final shot. "She's a great shooter and nine times out of 10 she makes that. I can live with that."
Two days later against UCLA was a completely different story as the first quarter was "embarrassing" according to Roberts. The Utes, possibly still angry at their loss to USC, got blitzed by the Bruins and found themselves trailing 36-15 at the end of the first 10 minutes.
The positives, if any, was that the Utes played the Bruins pretty evenly after that point, being outscored 56-52.
Utah will now try and turn that positive into something greater when it hosts the Cardinal. The consensus top team in the nation, Stanford has no weaknesses on either side of the court. They've scored over 100 points three times this season and have only had two games where the final deficit was less than 10 points.
“It’s not a mystery, we know who we’re playing, we know they’re very, very good and they’re the best team in the country,” Roberts said. “It’s not a preseason thing, they’ve proven it.”
The good news is that if Utah can survive that game, they'll fact Pac-12 bottom-dweller Cal on Sunday. For how good the Cardinal have been, that's equally how much the Golden Bears have struggled.
Cal is winless on the season with only one conference contest being within single digits. They're also coming off a 100-41 beatdown by No. 11 Oregon this past Sunday.
Regardless of the opponent, Roberts knows that each and every game will be a tough one. It's why she's preached toughness and consistency to the Utes all season long, believing that consistent teams are ones that will begin to string victories together by pulling out the close ones.
Also, that's the beauty of the Pac-12 is that every weekend there's a chance to make a statement at the national level. It's why Roberts loves where she's at and what she's trying to get her girls to understand.
“That’s what I told them,” Roberts said. “You committed to play here and you’re committed to keep swinging.”
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