SALT LAKE CITY — After starting the season with three straight losses, the Utah women’s basketball team has rebounded in a big way.
The Utes have rattled off five straight wins, including an overtime victory at BYU, as head coach Lynne Roberts’ young team continues to gel. Their latest victory was a 78-58 blowout of Oral Roberts at the Huntsman Center on Thursday.
“We’re improving; we’re getting better. We’ve played seven games, but only two of them have been at home, so our next five games are at home, which is nice,” Roberts said.
Four of Utah’s six games to open the season were on the road, including games at Cincinnati and Xavier. The tough schedule away from home to open the season turned out to be a positive for the Utes.
“We scheduled harder this year on purpose and we did have a couple tough losses, but it’s all part of the process,” Roberts said. “We have so many new players. Traveling together, it creates chemistry that you can’t get at home when everyone’s going their own separate ways at nights. On the road, you really have a chance to bond in a different way.”
Utah’s best win of the season to this point was a 77-73 overtime road win at BYU — the first of Roberts’ tenure at Utah. Freshman Brynna Maxwell led the team with 18 points and transfer Ola Makurat added 13 points.
“Most of those players that were hitting shots had never been in that environment or that situation. It was just a great experience. When you have a young team, every time you do something, you’re doing it for the first time or second time. These close games, especially with a young team, you need to have some successes to gain that genuine confidence,” Roberts said.
The game marked a turning point in the season for the Utes as they won their fourth straight game.
“They believe it, they think it, but now you have that success and it becomes genuine,” Roberts said.
After the Ohio swing against Cincinnati and Xavier, Roberts changed up her coaching strategy.
“Part of it is coaching strategy, you come in and you think you know what you have in terms of players who play where and play well together, what we can run. I learned after that Ohio trip that I think we were pointing in the wrong direction from a strategic standpoint in lineups and strategy in-game — what we were running and how we were running it,” Roberts said. “We changed it, and it’s worked.”
Utah’s offense has improved greatly since the first few contests of the season. In a loss to South Dakota, the Utes could never get into a rhythm offensively. In the win against Oral Roberts, Utah moved the ball better and had offensive success. The Utes’ defense in their latest victory was also good. The Utes held Oral Roberts to just eight points in the second quarter.
“I think we’re figuring out what it means to play up-tempo and with tempo without being out of control. I always want my teams to be uptempo and play with tempo, but the first couple games, it was sloppy and a lot of bad shots. Our shot selection is getting better and I think that’s why we’re shooting better,” Roberts said.
As they have spent more time together, Utah’s young team is gelling on offense.
“It just takes time. These players, most of them haven’t played together or at all at this level. It takes time, especially with the kind of offense that we run, where there’s freedom and you can make reads and you can choose whether to shoot it or not,” Roberts said.
Maxwell, who scored 13 points in Utah’s latest win, said that the team is figuring out how to play together and are gaining more chemistry. Julie Brosseau, who scored 14, agreed.
“The more we play together, the better it will become,” Brosseau said.
Chemistry matters a lot for Utah. The Utes play two five-person groups, subbing five players on and off of the court at a time.
Roberts is satisfied with the improvements her team is making as the Utes wind down nonconference play.
“I do think we’ve improved in every aspect — with room, certainly, to continue to improve,” Roberts said.