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No. 25 Utah looks for redemption over No. 16 Oklahoma in Top 25 matchup

Utah Utes vs. Idaho Vandals at Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, UT on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022.

Utah Utes vs. Idaho Vandals at Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, UT on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. (Hunter Dyke, Utah Athletics)


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SALT LAKE CITY β€” It's the game that got away from Utah last season.

The Utes held an 11-point lead on the road going into the fourth quarter and were 10 minutes away from a quality victory against Oklahoma, who had only one loss on the season prior to the game.

The final 10 minutes of the night at Lloyd Noble Center, however, were a disaster for the Utes. The team turned the ball over nine times (seven of which were steals) and Oklahoma translated that into 11 points on the other end. The Utes were outscored 32-14 in the quarter and went home with a loss β€” left only to think about what could have been.

It was a loss that Utah women's basketball head coach Lynne Roberts said "still really stings" and "still haunts me" when she thinks back to that game and the missed opportunities.

Oklahoma was the last game of Utah's nonconference schedule before a daunting Pac-12 slate, and to lose in that fashion was undoubtedly demoralizing and one that could have derailed the team's spirit going into conference play β€” one loss turns into two, and it suddenly snowballs from there.

Instead, it served as sort of a galvanizing moment for the team looking to take the next step as a program. It helped Utah move through the Pac-12 slate with enough success to help the team peak at the right time en route to a Pac-12 championship appearance and an NCAA Tournament run to the second round.

Coming into this season, the Oklahoma game can serve as an early test β€” a look at how far Utah has come since last season.

"I think we took that game and it helped us throughout that rest of the season," sophomore Kennedy McQueen said. "I think once we watched the film back and seeing things what we can exploit and do better on our end, it's what's really going to help us. I think we're all so excited for that game β€” can't wait."

The Wednesday night game (7 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Networks) between two Top 25 ranked teams for the first time in the Huntsman Center since Jan. 21, 2019, when Utah defeated No. 6 Stanford, is an opportunity for redemption. It's a chance for Roberts' team to take the next step in its progression as it seeks another NCAA Tournament appearance.

"It's a chance to really challenge our team, to lock in on a game plan and in a great big environment," Roberts said. "The season's not on the line, so it's just a chance to compete. We want to win, but it's still about us getting better and all that good stuff, so I'm looking forward to it. We'll be ready."

Utah has the playmakers to do it, and are led by sophomore Gianna Kneepkens, who rained down five 3-pointers against Southeastern Louisiana on Sunday amid a barrage of 17 made 3-pointers from the team that night. McQueen added four 3-pointers and is another threat on offense, and Alissa Pili has shown she can take over a game following a 27-point night on Nov. 7.

But offense is just one part of the equation for the Utes. While the hoop seemed much larger on Sunday, Roberts said she wants to see more physicality from her team in an attempt to fight for rebounds and not give Oklahoma many second-chance points, or easy opportunities to shift the momentum.

"We were waiting to see if the ball was missed and then trying to rebound, and we were slow to the ball and just kind of soft on that, so we have to fix that," Roberts said of her team's effort on Sunday. "We want to continue winning. Our next three games, we're playing Power Five schools that are just as big as we are and we can't rely on that.

"We've got to be really, really physical and improve on the rebounding, so that's going to be the point of emphasis moving forward."

And then there's the issue of the 23 turnovers the team had last season against Oklahoma. It's an issue Roberts said that will have the team's attention on Wednesday, especially since the team had 14 turnovers on Sunday.

"We've got to be really disciplined," she said. "We've got to clean it up, but we'll be ready to roll. If you turn it over against us, we're gonna run it at you; and very similar, we know taking care of the ball is critical, and they're very good and aggressive and athletic and deep. They play 12 people, so they'll just keep running people at you, so it's gonna be fun; it's what it's all about."

So while the game may be about getting revenge, or redemption, or whatever cathartic measure is needed to move past last season's result, it's more just an opportunity for Utah to have an early test on the schedule and get better for conference play.

"Just a chance to play them again, and this time at home … it's going to be a great, competitive game," Roberts said.

"They had a rowdy crowd and it was full; we need the same thing, we need everything. We really need this community to come out and see two really fun teams to watch. It's going to be a great, competitive game."

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Josh is the Sports Director for KSL.com and beat writer of University of Utah athletics β€” primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.

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