University of Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts talked earlier this week about the opportunity to validate the No. 3 Utes’ co-championship in the Pac-12 regular season with a strong run in the conference tournament.

Instead, the second-seeded Utes played arguably their worst game of the season in a quarterfinal at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, and were upset 66-58 by 7-seed Washington State to take an early exit that very few saw coming.

“Missing Issy Palmer was a huge blow for us today, but that is not an excuse. It took us a little while to find our offensive rhythm.” — Utah associate head coach Gavin Petersen.

The Utes (25-4) won’t play again for 15 or 16 days, but will still host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament at the Huntsman Center in about two weeks. It remains to be seen whether they will drop from the 1-seed line to the 2-seed line after Thursday’s excruciating loss.

“One game is not going to define us,” associate head coach Gavin Petersen told ESPN 700 radio. 

Wazzu basically turned the tables on the Utes, after Utah began its run to the tournament championship last year with a quarterfinal upset of the Cougars, who entered the contest with a NET ranking of 38 and possibly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. 

“Wazzu was us last year. We knew that going in. We knew we were going to get their best shot, and man, they turned it on in that third quarter and got us playing a little bit on our heels,” Petersen said.

Indeed, the Cougars outscored the Utes 27-11 in the third quarter, turning a 30-26 halftime deficit into a 12-point lead. 

The Utes played without starting point guard Issy Palmer, who was a late scratch with an undisclosed injury and was said to be “day to day with a minor injury” by the Pac-12 Networks broadcasting team.

“Missing Issy Palmer was a huge blow for us today, but that is not an excuse,” Petersen said. “It took us a little while to find our offensive rhythm.”

Foul trouble also plagued the Utes, as Dasia Young and Jenna Johnson spent most of the first half on the bench with three and two fouls, respectively. The Utes’ 58 points is a season-low.

Gianna Kneepkens led the Utes with 18 points on 5 of 12 shooting, but Utah was a frosty 5 of 21 from 3-point range and got only 11 points on 3 of 11 shooting from Pac-12 Player of the Year Alissa Pili.

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Wazzu made 8 of 17 3-point attempts, and pulled away in the third quarter with huge 3s from Ula Motuga and Charlisse Leger-Walker.

Washington State dumped Cal 61-49 Wednesday night in a first-round game, and simply adjusted to the arena better than the Utes.

“Wazzu got to play last night, and we didn’t,” Petersen said. “Maybe they shot the ball better because of that. I don’t know.”

The Utes shot 38% from the field, and got no points from Palmer fill-in Ines Vieira in 29 minutes and just two from Johnson, who was 1 of 6.

Still, Utah chopped a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to three with 39 seconds remaining when Pili made a 3-point play the old-fashioned way. But with the shot clock winding down, Leger-Walker drilled a long 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining to rescue the Cougars.

“I think when you play somebody a third time they know exactly what you are going to do,” Petersen said. “We thought they would struggle with Alissa Pili, but they were physical. So all the things that we had kinda going towards her, they had an answer for. That was part of it.”