Last year, in its fourth game of the season, the Utah women’s basketball team shot its way onto the national radar with a 124-76 home victory over then-No. 16 Oklahoma.
The Utes ended up going 27-5 last season, earning a piece of the Pac-12 regular-season championship and advancing to the Sweet 16.
Following wins last week against decidedly overmatched Mississippi Valley State and South Carolina State, No. 4 Utah is headed to Texas to take on No. 21 Baylor on Tuesday night (5:30 p.m. MST, ESPN+) in a key nonconference matchup for both schools.
The Bears are one of the most historically successful programs in women’s basketball — Baylor has won three national championships, most recently in 2019 under previous head Kim Mulkey.
Baylor is coming off a 20-13 season when it advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s second round, though it was the Bears’ worst season winning percentage-wise since the 1999-2000 season, before the Baylor brand was built under Mulkey.
“We’re going to be tested down at Baylor on Tuesday. They’ve got some great players and individual scorers — they’re a good team and well-coached,” Utah ninth-year head coach Lynne Roberts said.
The Utes, who are the favorites to win a wildly competitive Pac-12 Conference, are already being projected as a No. 1 seed in the latest ESPN bracketology.
A victory in Waco would only solidify — and even amplify — that projection.
Roberts said there are lessons the team can take from its opening week, when Utah outscored its opposition by a combined 119 points.
“We’ve talked about preparing knowing that whether we’re the favorite to win or not, the habits — whether we’re up 30 or not — we’ve got to have good habits so that when we’re playing a game that’s a two-point game, we’ve established some habits in terms of doing things the right way,” she said.
Baylor — who will be a conference opponent for Utah when the Utes join the Big 12 Conference next year — played once during the season’s opening week, beating Southern by 32 points.
In that game, former Ute forward Dre’Una Edwards scored a team-high 20 points for Baylor, while adding four rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
Edwards left Utah after the 2018-19 season, when she started every game for the Utes and was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Since then, Edwards played two seasons at Kentucky before transferring again and sitting out a redshirt year last season at Baylor.
Senior guard Sarah Andrews scored 14 points to eclipse the career 1,000-point mark in Baylor’s opener, while adding seven assists.
Nicki Collen, who is in her third season as Baylor’s coach, also got key contributions from a couple other newcomers — forward Madison Bartley (a Belmont transfer) had 12 points and three rebounds, while guard Jada Walker (a Kentucky transfer) added 15 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“Nonconference is really about finding out your identity as a team and what you can hang your hat on, what you need to work on.” — Utah coach Lynne Roberts
It will be a busy week of travel for Roberts and her squad, as Utah heads from Texas to Alaska for the Great Alaska Shootout on the weekend.
Those are the next steps as Utah gears up toward conference play when the calendar turns to a new year.
“Nonconference is really about finding out your identity as a team and what you can hang your hat on, what you need to work on,” Roberts said after the Utes’ win over South Carolina State.
“We’re still learning that, and we weren’t perfect tonight defensively. There were quite a few mistakes, but good grief, it’s the second game — there should be, it’d be weird if there wasn’t, but we are farther ahead than we were a year ago for sure.”