AUSTIN, Texas — Dru Gylten’s heart was racing.

That was mostly due to excitement, but also a mixture of nerves, anticipation and the feeling a person gets when she is about to accomplish a lifelong goal, realize a dream since she first started playing organized basketball in kindergarten.

Utah’s women’s basketball team had gathered in coach Lynne Roberts’ office for the NCAA Tournament selection show, and Roberts joked that the point guard’s heart rate was at 120 beats per minute.

“She has been a huge asset to our program. She was the first recruit when I got here. I just knew her potential. She and I trust each other so much, and I love her to death. … She is the straw that stirs the drink for the Utes.” — Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts on senior guard Dru Gylten

Roberts would know. She has been Gylten’s coach the past five years, and calls the senior “an extension of me on the court, like having another coach on the floor.”

Gylten says coach and player are so familiar with each other that they complete each other’s sentences, joke around with each other, correct each other when play calls go awry in practices, and have “very open conversations” with each other. 

“We have a great relationship,” Roberts said.

Naturally, Roberts and Gylten were among the first in the room to share a big hug when more than halfway through the show it was announced that the Utes (20-11) were receiving a longed-for 7 seed and will play Arkansas (18-13) Friday in a first-round game at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

For Gylten, the selection to the Big Dance is a “cherry on top” of a long, injury-filled, but successful career at Utah that began way back in 2017. The product of Rapid City, South Dakota, redshirted her first season in Salt Lake City when the Utes went 18-14 and lost to Kansas State in the second round of the WNIT.

She started all 30 games as a redshirt freshman when they went 20-10 in 2018-19 and in 30 as a sophomore when they went 14-17 in 2019-20. Last year, she started in the first 15 games before electing to have season-ending surgery for a torn labrum in her hip. The Utes didn’t come close to making postseason play, finishing 5-16.

But Gylten persevered, and the reward is as sweet as she thought it would be. She hasn’t “officially” made a decision whether she will return next year, but in her mind she says she has been “taking this as my last year.”

She participated in Senior Night ceremonies Feb. 26 before the Utes lost 73-65 to Oregon — a loss they would avenge in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals two weeks ago — and will graduate in May with a degree in kinesiology and double minors in business and pediatric clinical research, having delayed her graduation from a year ago due to the pandemic.

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She also got engaged that night to her high school sweetheart, Preston. More on that in a bit.

Gylten, 5-foot-11, redshirted her first year at Utah because she suffered a torn ACL in the semifinals of her high school state tournament game in South Dakota and was still recovering from surgery performed by Utah team physicians in March 2017.

“I feel really blessed for the opportunity that I have had to play here at such a great college and in such a great conference for what is now my fifth year here,” she said. “I am a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and going back to my first injury — if I had never torn my ACL I would never be here at this point, and experiencing such a great season this year and getting to the tournament.”

Gylten has 136 assists as one of the best passers in the country and is averaging 4.9 points per game this season, while starting with two sophomores and two freshmen — blossoming stars Gianna Kneepkens and Jenna Johnson.

Utah women’s basketball career assists leaders

1. Shona Thorburn, 689

2. Alli Bills, 612

3. Janita Badon, 578

4. Erika Bean, 542

5. Dru Gylten, 537

6. Danielle Rodriguez, 452

Those last two years, obviously we weren’t as successful as we are now,” she said. “I don’t think I would change it, because I have learned so much from it, and I am so satisfied with how my career has gone. It has been very successful, at least in my opinion.”

Roberts, in her seventh season, agrees.

“She has been a huge asset to our program,” Roberts said. “She was the first recruit when I got here. I just knew her potential. She and I trust each other so much, and I love her to death. … She is the straw that stirs the drink for the Utes.”

Gylten said she began her career wanting to start her freshman year, wanting to be the best leader she could be, wanting to beat every Pac-12 team at least once and wanting to be “part of history” by getting the Utes to places they hadn’t been since joining the Pac-12 in 2011-12.

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“I have definitely checked all the boxes that I wanted to check,” she said, noting that the conference tournament win over also NCAA-bound Oregon in which she had five assists and no turnovers in 30 pressure-packed minutes was her first over the Ducks and completed the goal.

Gylten is not a big scorer, which might explain why she was passed over for a lot of conference honors the past few seasons after making the Pac-12 All-Freshman first team her first season.

She’s a tremendous passer, however, and currently ranks fifth on Utah’s career assists list, with 537. She needs five to tie Erika Bean for fourth, which is fitting considering Bean’s last year in the program was Gylten’s first. Shona Thorburn’s list-topping 689 assists is obviously out of reach, but Gylten will leave as one of the top point guards in program history, Roberts said.

“When she is dialed in and playing at her best, we are playing at our best,” Roberts said. “She knows that, everybody knows that. She is quality. She is the best.”

So how did a self-described “country gal” from South Dakota, whose grandfather Jerry Schultz was a University of North Dakota basketball legend who played with NBA Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson in college end up in Utah?

Even while she was leading St. Thomas More High to four straight state championships in Rapid City, Dru and/or her parents — Kristi and Daniel Gylten — would make the 10-hour drive to Minneapolis to play for an AAU traveling team called North Tartan.

“I would drive 10 hours, multiple weekends, for two years just to play for them,” she said. “So that is when I got more recognition, and more colleges were contacting me, and Utah was one of the first ones, when I first joined that team.”

Utah guard Dru Gylten runs onto the court before the Utes play Stanford in the 2022 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament championship game at the Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday, March 6, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Roberts and her staff recruited Gylten for two years, got her to make an official visit to Utah, and the rest is history.

Gylten says she loved the family vibe in the program and in Salt Lake City, and the beautiful surroundings. She’s visited most of the national parks in the state, and spends a lot of time in the mountains.

“I like the big-city feel, but also the chance to kind of escape a little bit,” she said.

She was also intrigued by the opportunity to play in the Pac-12. She credits her family for all the sacrifices they made, particularly the long road trips, for getting her to where she is now.

“I would definitely not be where I am at today without my family, and all the sacrifices they have made for me,” she said.

Both of her parents played in college, and her younger siblings — Michael, Riley and Buzzy (Wyatt) — enjoy the game as well. 

“Without them, and their mentorship, their coaching, their criticism, I wouldn’t be here,” she said of her parents. “There definitely have been tears. My dad used to be my coach, too, so there were thousands of tears when he coached me. But it has just made me into the player I am today.”

Then there’s Preston, who is 6-2 and wins his share of one-on-one matchups with Dru when he “cheats” and tries to post her up. But Dru has bragging rights when it comes to championships.

“His teams made it to state but never ended up winning state,” she said. “I won four. So that is definitely big in our relationship, that I have four rings — well, now five — and he has zero.”

Will she have another one on their wedding day? Don’t count her, or the underrated Utes, out just yet.

Utes, Razorbacks on the air

No. 7 seed Utah (20-11)

vs. No. 10 seed Arkansas (18-13)

Friday, 3:30 p.m. MST

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament First-Round Game

At Frank Erwin Center, Austin Texas


Radio: ESPN AM 700