While the Utah women’s basketball team was edging Arizona 80-79 last Sunday at the Huntsman Center, defending Pac-12 champion Stanford was experiencing a rare loss at so-so USC, falling 55-46 to the Trojans in Los Angeles.

Stanford shot just 31% from the field and got to the free-throw line just 10 times, compared to 26 freebies for USC.

“Like I just told the team, we have nothing to lose. We are capable of beating them, but the pressure is on them to beat us. And we are not an easy out.” — Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts

For those reasons, and more, Utah coach Lynne Roberts expects a fired-up Cardinal team on Friday when the No. 8 Utes (15-1, 5-1) test No. 4 Stanford (17-2, 5-1) at Maples Pavilion (7 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network).

“I don’t know how else to say this, but you know the saying (that starts with) ‘hell hath no fury,’” Roberts asked rhetorically. “So, hell hath no fury like Stanford after a loss.”

On paper, Friday’s game appears to be huge for the Utes, seeing as how Utah, Stanford and Colorado (which handed Utah its only loss) are tied atop the Pac-12 standings with 5-1 records. But Roberts is taking a different tack, insisting that all the pressure is on Stanford, which downed Utah 73-48 in last year’s Pac-12 championship game.

“Like I just told the team, we have nothing to lose. We are capable of beating them, but the pressure is on them to beat us,” Roberts said after practice Wednesday. “And we are not an easy out. This group, I think, can absolutely do it, but a lot of things have to go right and we have got to play really, really smart. Not just hard, but smart, to beat Stanford.”

Stanford’s only other loss was to No. 1 South Carolina in overtime (76-71) on Nov. 20. Before losing to USC, the Cardinal routed No. 8 UCLA 72-59 at Pauley Pavilion.

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“You never want to play them after a loss, because that is how they are,” Roberts said. “So there is no time to marinate in the great win (over Arizona on Alissa Pili’s game-winning free throws with 0.3 seconds left). So we are all about (Stanford) right now. Today was our first real practice (of the week). We had recovery and stuff Monday. Tuesdays are off. So we got into it today.”

Sophomore forward Jenna Johnson said having one of the elite programs in the country up next for the Utes made it easier to return to earth after the emotional win over the Wildcats — a team Stanford routed 73-57 in Maples on Jan. 2.

“We are a team that doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low,” Johnson said. “So we were really excited after the Arizona win, but we’ve refocused. … We know it is going to be a hard game on Friday. If we go in half-focused and half-hearted at practice, we are going to get beat by a lot. We know they are good and we know they are talented and that definitely does fuel us for Friday.”

Roberts and Johnson said last year’s tournament loss in which Stanford outscored the Utes 41-18 in the second half to end Utah’s Cinderella run won’t be a motivating factor Friday. 

“They are a beatable team, and we just saw that (against USC),” Johnson said. “But at the same time we know that we are going to get their best shot on Friday. I am sure they are having a really hard week at practice. So we still respect them even though they lost.”

Utes on the air

No. 8 Utah (15-1, 5-1)
at No. 4 Stanford (17-2, 5-1)
Friday, 7 p.m. MST
At Maples Pavilion, Stanford, California
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700

Before the tournament game last year, Utah was up two with 1:12 left in a game at the Huntsman Center before Stanford rallied late to win 83-73. 

“We know we can hang with them, but I say that with the utmost respect and humility because of how good they are and how great they have always been,” Roberts said. “We are not going in there arrogant, like, ‘Oh, we got this.’ But we are going in there saying, ‘We are competitive, too.’ They have got to beat us and the pressure is on them to win.”

The Utes will play at California on Sunday (5 p.m. MST) and then return home next week for a pair of games against the Los Angeles schools Jan. 27 and Jan. 29 at the Huntsman Center.

Utah coach Lynne Roberts points up at the replay during the Utes’ victory over Arizona at the Huntsman Center.
Utah head coach Lynne Roberts points up at the the replay as she questions a referee during game against Arizona Wildcats in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. Utah won 80-79. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News