The University of Utah women’s basketball team has built its success this season on 3-point shooting.
The Utes broke the school record for most 3-pointers in a season Saturday afternoon, but showed they still need to work on consistency in a 73-65 loss to Oregon in a Pac-12 conference game at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
Freshman Jenna Johnson scored 27 points and led a second-half comeback that helped the Utes cut a 16-point Oregon lead to just one at 54-53, but Oregon’s Te-Hina Paopao and Sydney Parrish responded with a pair of 3-pointers over the next couple of minutes that allowed the 25th-ranked Ducks to secure second place in next week’s league tournament in Las Vegas.
“This was a great second half for us after an abysmal start,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “The way we came out at halftime was great, and they just played with a lot of fight, and we cut it to one, and then we turned it over too many times.
“We worked so hard on defense and came up with big stops, but Oregon is a great team with some WNBA draft picks, seniors and they’re tough. I’m proud of our team with our comeback, but this is not a bad loss.”
After the media predicted the Utes to finish 10th in the league standings, Roberts’ team ended the regular season with a 17-10 record and 8-7 in league play.
They finished tied for fifth place, but earned the sixth seed in the postseason tournament and will open against 11th-seeded Cal, which they defeated 80-75 in overtime in their only matchup this season.
A win there at 8:30 p.m. next Wednesday will put the Utes against Washington State, the only school above them in the standings that they have defeated this season.
It also kept the Utes on the opposite bracket of third-ranked and top-seeded Stanford.
“We’re not done,” Roberts insisted.
Added Dru Gylten, who played her last home game and celebrated Senior Day with teammates Andrea Torres and Maka Jackson: “We wanted to do something that we hadn’t done before. (The game) was emotional and we have a lot to look forward to. This team is so amazing.”
What has helped create the amazement is the team’s 3-point shooting, but on Saturday, Utah missed its first 10 shots from long range against the Ducks and fell behind 16-3.
Even worse, leading scorer Gianna Kneepkens injured her right shoulder in the game’s opening minutes and was ineffective the rest of the way.
The Utes trailed 38-22 at halftime, but Johnson responded with seven straight baskets and had 15 points during Utah’s 29-16 third-quarter run that energized the crowd of 2,200.
“Jenna was feeling it,” Roberts said. “We tried to get the ball to her every time in that third quarter.”
Johnson added a layup to start the fourth period, but the Ducks countered with more urgency. Oregon’s front line featured 6-foot-8, 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-5 athletes and, when the Utes focused on stopping them, that left Paopao open for the only 3-pointer she made all day.
After that it was Parrish’s turn, and she scored the majority of her 18 points, which ended Utah’s momentum rush and gave Oregon its 13th straight win in this one-sided series.
“We’re feeling a lot relief,” said Parrish, whose team had lost two in a row. “We knew (the game) was important for both us and Utah.
“Seeing that ball go in the first couple of times boosted my confidence. It’s good to have that happen going into the tournament.”
Utah lost to Washington State in the first round of last year’s league tourney to end a 5-16 season. The Utes’ last visit to postseason play beyond conference tournaments was the WNIT four years ago.
They have not reached the NCAAs since 2011.