Utah coach frustrated after Utes lose to UCLA in Pac-12 tournament

Roberts expressed her frustrations after the Utes Pac-12 tournament exit.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes head coach Lynne Roberts gives instructions to her team, in basketball action at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024.

Early in the fourth quarter, as Lynne Roberts’ group again searched for a playmaker to step up, the ground finally caved in on Utah’s upset hopes.

UCLA’s Angela Dugalic stepped into a deep two and buried it. A minute later, Kiki Rice hit a step back three. Dugalic finished off the flurry with a second-chance triple as the shot clock wound down.

Utah’s deficit went from five to 13 before the Utes’ Pac-12 tournament run ended in the quarterfinals with a 67-57 loss.

But as Utah left Las Vegas, Roberts voiced her frustration with the “narrative” around her team. She said it ignored the body of work Utah has at 22-10.

“Let’s not take away the fact that this team has beat four top-10 teams,” Roberts said. “We have won 22 games. Our NET is seven or nine. Like, that is pretty dang good. But that isn’t the narrative right? The narrative isn’t about what we’ve done. It’s about, oh…

“We’ve lost Issy Palmer and Gianna Kneepkens. That is 34 points a game and we still have done well. So I would like the narrative around this team to change a little bit. I think we deserve it. They deserve it. It kind of ticks me off. Our body of work and the narrative is like, ‘Oh man, yeah.’ I don’t buy that.”

After the departure of Palmer and Kneepkens, Utah has looked for other playmakers. On Thursday, the problem again popped up. UCLA had multiple secondary scorers. Utah did not. At least not consistently.

The Utes sold out on doubling UCLA center Lauren Betts. Utah held her to eight points and three turnovers. But Dugalic and Charisma Osborne picked up the slack. The pair had 17 and 16 points respectively and shot 53% from the field combined.

“She hit big shots. Like I said, dagger shots,” Roberts said of Dugalic.

As for Utah, it asked Inês Vieira to play through two injuries and log 36 minutes. She had the second-highest usage on the team and tried to manufacture offense.

She finished with 11 points, four rebounds and four assists. But around her, Utah shot just 35% from the field and 30% from three.

Alissa Pili was held to 16 points. Kennady McQueen had 14 — many coming late — and Maty Wilke added 10.

Roberts said it was possibly the most physical game she has been a part of (with Vieira nearly getting knocked out of the game twice). Jenna Johnson had to get stitches.

“We don’t ever get the benefit of the doubt,” Roberts said. “Whether it is in rankings or 50-50 calls. We never get the benefit of the doubt. So you have to have a little edge. That is part of who we are. Our football team is the same way. We are going to out-tough you. Things are never given to us.”

Utah went 10-for-26 on layups and missed six free throws. Johnson finished with two points and went 1-of-6 from the field. Roberts’ bench added four points.

“I am incredibly proud of my team,” Roberts said. “I thought we battled and played as hard as we physically could. Never quit. They hit end-of-shot clock daggers. And we missed some of those. We left some points on the table.”

Utah will wait for Selection Sunday next week to see where it travels for the first round.

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