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Utes’ men’s, women’s basketball teams enter big weekend amid adversity

Injuries have beset both programs as top-five opponents head for the Huntsman Center

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Utah Utes head coach Craig Smith cheers after a play as Utah and Colorado play in the Huntsman Center.

Utah Utes head coach Craig Smith cheers after a play as Utah and Colorado play in the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. Utah prevailed, but a bigger test awaits the team tonight when No. 4 UCLA invades the Huntsman Center.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

This article was first published in the Ute Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Wednesday night.

It’s a crucial week for both the Utah men’s and women’s basketball teams at home as they head into the home stretch of the regular season.

Both teams will face top-5 opponents and both are dealing with key injuries.

The Runnin’ Utes host No. 4 UCLA tonight and USC Saturday in the home finale. It’s a huge opportunity for Utah, which recorded a 15-point upset victory over then-No. 4 Arizona in December.

However, guard Rollie Worster rolled his left ankle less than four minutes into the second half against Arizona State last Saturday and never returned to the court.

Meanwhile, the No. 8 Utah women entertain California Thursday and No. 3 Stanford Saturday. That showdown with the Cardinal will decide the Pac-12 regular-season championship.

The Utah women were ranked No. 4 before suffering a loss at No. 18 Arizona last week. The Utes bounced back with a 74-69 victory over Arizona State Sunday despite playing without the Pac-12’s leading scorer, Alissa Pili. Pili did not play after sustaining a right ankle sprain in the final minutes of the loss at Arizona.

The Pac-12 women’s tournament runs from March 1-5 at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas while the Pac-12 men’s tournament runs from March 8-11 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Seedings and matchups for both tournaments will be determined over these final weeks of the regular season.

In case you missed it

Two Utah women’s gymnasts, seniors Maile O’Keefe and Jaedyn Rucker, were both nominated for the the AAI Award, emblematic of “most outstanding senior female gymnast in the country.”

They are on a list of 39 nominees for the prestigious honor.

O’Keefe and Rucker are both national champions — O’Keefe on bars and floor in 2021Rucker on vault in 2022 — and key figures for No. 4-ranked Utah, one of the chief national title contenders.

Currently, O’Keefe ranks No. 1 in the country on beam, while Rucker is tied for No. 30 on vault.

Numbers game

22: Points scored by Gianna Kneepkens in Utah’s 74-69 victory over Arizona State Sunday.

26: Margin of loss for the Runnin’ Utes in an 88-62 setback at Arizona last week, their worst since 2019.

From the archives

Extra points

  • From hunter to hunted: Utah’s No. 4-ranked women’s basketball team relishing newfound role (Deseret News)
  • No. 8 Arizona hands Runnin’ Utes a humbling 88-62 loss in battle for second place in Pac-12 (Deseret News)
  • What’s the latest on Grace McCallum’s injury? (Deseret News)
  • 3 keys to No. 8 Arizona’s rout of cold-shooting Utah (Deseret News)
  • Kneepkens scores 22; No. 4 Utah stops Arizona State 74-69 (Deseret News)


They have the effort but just not enough talent. Utah is a good team with everyone healthy but without the best, just average. Still, they are a vast improvement this year. NIT here they go.

— Big J

I hate to say this, but the Utes will not win another game this season. Again, I hate typing that, but it’s looking like the truth, with three more losses the Utes will finish in eighth place, which is not that impressive after being predicted to finish ninth. Expect most likely a fourth straight loss while in Vegas. When Worster went down, the coaching decisions seemed very questionable. Why was Mike Saunders not used to help break the press as he is a point guard? Why not give Jaxon Brenchley a few minutes to help try to fill the void? Why switch into a zone defense which ultimately cost the Utes the game with the big 3-pointers made by ASU? Again, we can all thank (Mark) Harlan for destroying the basketball program. Since the exodus of Coach K and talent that is now thriving at Texas, Maryland, Utah State and Arizona (and 1 year at Illinois). Coach K had excellent offensive play sets, I don’t see that with Smith. I will give credit to the improvement of Branden Carlson, but is that due to Burgess or Smith or Branden? Where is Marco Anthony? He is missing a second gear, and he has to have some leadership qualities with all his experience that could really be used right now. I’ll hope for a miracle, but the state of the Utes right now is not encouraging. (It was a good effort and game from Lazer but he can’t do it alone.)

— JD

Up next

Feb. 23 | 5 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. California | @Salt Lake City | Pac-12 Network

Feb. 23 | 9 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. UCLA | @Salt Lake City | FS1

Feb. 24 | 6 p.m. | Gymnastics | vs. California | @Salt Lake City | Pac-12 Network

Feb. 25 | Noon | Women’s basketball | vs. Stanford | @Salt Lake City | Pac-12 Network

Feb. 25 | 6 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. USC | @Salt Lake City | ESPNU


Utah Utes forward Alissa Pili (35) keeps Washington Huskies forward Dalayah Daniels from the ball at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023. The Ute standout is nursing an ankle injury and is questionable for games this week, including a visit from No. 3 Stanford on Saturday.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News