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Utah women will host opening round of WNIT Tournament; Utes offer free admission

Utah Utes guard Danielle Rodriguez (22) gets past Stanford Cardinal forward Alanna Smith (11) in the paint as Utah and Stanford play in the Huntsman Center Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016.
Utah Utes guard Danielle Rodriguez (22) gets past Stanford Cardinal forward Alanna Smith (11) in the paint as Utah and Stanford play in the Huntsman Center Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016.
Scott G Winterton,

SALT LAKE CITY — When Lynne Roberts took over the University of Utah’s women’s basketball program, she knew they had what it takes to succeed this season.

Exactly what that success would look like, she didn’t exactly know.

“Truthfully, I didn’t have a finish line in mind of what it would look like,” Roberts said at Tuesday morning’s press conference. “Certainly, I knew we had potential, and I believed in these players. I thought we had a shot to have a good year.” She knew success would require some things the team could control, as well as some they couldn’t. The players stayed healthy, something they didn’t do last year.

The players also bought into Roberts’ changes while learning to persevere through adversity.

“There will be some bumps along the road,” she said. “Every team in America has those. … Adversity is inevitable in a seven-month season.”

She said whether dealing with a heartbreaking loss or a bad week of practice, good teams learn to play through their struggles. “If we could keep them healthy, motivated, driven and pushing through, then I think we can achieve some great things,” she said of her thoughts before the season began. “I never had a win count or postseason in mind. That said, I’m really proud of where we’re at right now.”

And where Utah is at is pretty sweet after the struggles of the last couple of seasons.

For the first time since the 2012-13 season, the team will be competing in the postseason. The Utes (16-14) will host Montana State (21-9) this Friday at the Huntsman Center in the first round of the WNIT.

Montana State won the Big Sky Conference’s regular season title but lost in the Big Sky Tournament to Idaho State on a buzzer-beater on March 9.

Utah finished seventh in the Pac-12 after being predicted to finish 11th in preseason coaches polls.

While this is the first time Utah and Montana State will have met in the postseason, Utah owns an 8-0 record over the Bobcats, including five wins in Salt Lake City.

FREE ADMISSION

Friday’s WNIT first-round game will be streamed at Pac-12.com, as well as broadcast on ESPN 700 AM. But if fans print out a family pass coupon available on the Utes’ website, they can gain free admission to the playoff game.

The winner of Friday’s game will face the victor of the UC Riverside at Gonzaga contest.

“We’re excited to be playing, and we appreciate the chance to host,” Roberts said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

She said that as physically taxing as the season can be, playing in postseason tournaments is a reward all players and coaches relish.

“This is an opportunity for us to just keep playing,” she said. “And that’s what’s fun about postseason tournaments. … It’s just fun at this stage, it’s just a chance to compete and keep playing together, and the fact that we’re still playing means that we had a really good year. So this is kind of the reward that you get for that. … If a team can’t get motivated to play in the postseason, then they should get out of it.”

ALL-CONFERENCE HONORS

Three Utah players earned postseason honors.

Redshirt sophomore and leading scorer Emily Potter received Pac-12 All-Conference recognition from both media and coaches. She set the school’s single-season blocks record with 75, and she’s scored in double figures 26 of the 30 games she’s played this season.

Potter was also an honorable mention member of the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team.

Junior guard Paige Crozon earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors. She has scored at least 10 points in 20 of the last 23 games she’s played. She’s scored 20-plus points in three games this season and has 11 career games with 10 or more rebounds.

Senior point guard Danielle Rodriguez was also recognized as an honorable mention member of the Pac-12 All-Conference Team and the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team.

She is eighth in the conference with 4.3 assists and leads the Utes with 1.4 steals per game. She’s scored in double figures eight of the last 10 games.

Email: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: adonsports