Lynne Roberts knew that if she was going to walk out of the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Friday afternoon with a victory, it was going to take a flawless game and some luck.
Unfortunately for Utah's head coach, the Utes didn't play flawlessly and well, any luck that was in the game clearly went to No. 1 Stanford. The Utes kept up with the Cardinal in the second and fourth quarters but were ultimately done in the first and third quarters en route to an 82-54 loss.
“They are the best team in the country,” Roberts said of Stanford, the nation's top team. “They make you work for everything and they are hard to score on. Our kids battled, but we didn’t shoot well.”
It's not so much that Utah didn't shoot well considering their opponent.
According to Roberts, the Cardinal don't get the credit they deserve defensively. And when they have nine players 6' or taller who can all move like guards, knocking down shots comes becomes a rarity.
The Utes finished the game 18-of-44 from the field, but really struggled from behind the arc where they went just 3-for-16. Kemery Martin led the way with a team-high 11 points.
Freshman Kennady McQueen was sensational off the bench, finishing with 10 points and six rebounds. She knocked two shots from beyond the arc, but it was her competitiveness and how hard she played against a superior opponent that most impressed Roberts.
“McQueen was fearless, and Kemery kept us in it in the first half,” Roberts said. “McQueen is a fighter. She got a lot of confidence today playing against the best team in the country.”
Halfway through the first quarter and Utah found themselves tied with the Cardinal at 8 as their offensive struggles were made up by extraordinary effort on defense. But Stanford then ended the quarter on a 15-0 run to take the commanding lead.
The second quarter was different as Utah seemed to settle in on offense, largely in part to the play of Martin. She was able to get to the rim quite often rather than settling for contested jumpers — which led to the Utes trailing 40-25 at the break.
The third quarter was another disaster for Utah as the Stanford came out firing behind the sharpshooting of Kiana Williams (18 points, 6-of-10 from beyond the arc) and Hannah Jump (15 points, 5-of-10 from beyond the arc).
Trailing 61-32 entering the fourth quarter, the Utes finally played loose and like the team they're capable of. As tough defense turned into easy offense, Utah executed at a much higher rate and outscored the Cardinal by one.
“I don’t want that to be what we’re known for. ... For us, everything has changed and we have to look for the bright spots," Roberts said of moral victories. “Playing games is all they have to look forward to and we have to put this season into perspective. If we focus on ourselves and give our best effort, everything else will take care of itself.”
Utah will now face a vastly different opponent in Cal on Sunday afternoon. The Golden Bears are winless on the season so it should be a gran opportunity for the Utes to get back to their winning ways.
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