The injury occurred late in the Utes’ 87-68 win over BYU on Saturday — Kneepkens fell to the floor with a noncontact injury with under two minutes to play and didn’t put any pressure on her foot as she was helped off the court.
“It was a fluke. There wasn’t anyone within six feet from her and her foot just kind of caught. She was going to do a stepback and her body went forward and her right foot stayed,” Roberts said.
“Gianna’s struggling. If there’s a kid that lives, breathes and sleeps basketball, it’s her. This is part of life. Life can stink sometimes.” — Utah coach Lynne Roberts
Kneepkens will have surgery soon and plans on taking a medical redshirt year, according to her coach, which will leave the star shooting guard with two seasons of eligibility. “That’s the silver lining,” Roberts said.
To be eligible to utilize a medical redshirt in college basketball, a player must not have played more than 30% of a team’s games in a given season. Kneepkens’ injury came in Utah’s eighth contest of a 30-game season, just within that 30% threshold.
Processing the news is still a bit fresh.
“Gianna’s struggling. If there’s a kid that lives, breathes and sleeps basketball, it’s her. This is part of life. Life can stink sometimes,” Roberts said. “This is going to be a process for her that she’s going to have to push through. She’s got a group of teammates that love her and coaches that love her. She’ll be all right, it’s still a little raw.
“The fact that the season’s over for her, she’s still working through that.”
Kneepkens has been an instrumental part of Roberts’ program since arriving on campus ahead of the 2021-22 season. The 6-foot Duluth, Minnesota, native was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year two seasons ago, then earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last year.
This year, Kneepkens averaged 17.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game through eight games for the Utes, the nation’s top-scoring team, while hitting a team-high 27 3-pointers.
Utah forward Jenna Johnson, a fellow Minnesotan who joined the Utah program the same time as Kneepkens, shared what it meant to lose her teammate for the season.
“Very sad obviously. We came in both from Minnesota, we lived together for two years. She’s my best friend, so not having her on the court is tough,” Johnson said.
Kneepkens was wearing a soft cast on her right leg while she sat on the sidelines during practice Monday, with crutches sitting by her side on the court.
Roberts said she is hopeful Utah will get point guard Isabel Palmer back this weekend — she missed the team’s past five games with her own injury.
No. 11 Utah will play at unbeaten Saint Joseph’s on Thursday before facing No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday in a neutral-site matchup in Uncasville, Connecticut.
The Utes entered the season with aspirations to improve on a Sweet 16 season last year that included a 27-5 record and Pac-12 regular-season championship.
Kneepkens’ injury, while devastating, won’t alter those plans.
“We’ve got enough talent in the room to still achieve our goals,” Roberts said. “Adversity hits — you either adapt and change, or you run away from it. And we’re not running away from anything.”