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Utah women's basketball coach Lynne Roberts introduced an unusual practice to the program this season: She doesn't talk to her players in the locker room after games.

But there was an exception. After Utah's 73-63 WNIT loss at Oregon last month, Roberts walked in to address her team, which had finished the season 18-15. Not one for wrap-up speeches, she kept it simple.

"I think they were surprised to see me," she said. "I just told them that I was proud of them. Our goal this year was to gain some respect for our program. I think now people think that we're for real."

For real —¬†as in the Utes beat a Final Four team this year (Washington at home). For real as in making the postseason after being voted to finish 11th in the Pac-12. For real as in winning 12 games at home and making women's basketball a little more exciting at the Huntsman Center again.

The Utes accomplished a lot relative to what was expected this season, Roberts' first at the helm. But next season more will be expected, and the Utes are preparing to exceed that bar as well.

For every win, Roberts looks at a few of the closer losses, particularly to UCLA at home and to Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament. In several games, the Utes were close in the third quarter but "ran out of steam" in the fourth. That points to depth issues.

"We'll have a little more depth next year, and hopefully maintain the pace we want to play at," Roberts said. "There were some teams we thought had a little more gas than we did at the end of games. It tells us we're close, but not quite there."

Still, Utah returns a few bona fide stars. Center Emily Potter will be a junior next year after averaging 15.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and demolishing a program record by blocking 83 shots.

The coaching staff will handle her similar to how the men's program handled Jakob Poeltl last summer: She'll spend some time at camps and a lot of time with Team Canada, traveling around to build her skill set. Roberts said she sees Potter as still only scratching the surface of her potential, and the 6-foot-6 post has a goal to have a more varied offensive game next season.

There's also 6-foot-1 forward Paige Crozon, who experienced a resurgent junior season (13.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and returns as the team's only senior next year. Rounding out with fellow returners Malia Nawahine and Tanaeya Boclair, the Utes will bring back four of their top five scorers next year.

Wing will be a deep position for Utah next year: Clemson transfer Daneesha Provo becomes eligible, and the Utes signed a freshman from Bishop Gorman, Megan Jacobs, who comes highly touted. Utah will also bring back 6-foot-3 Wendy Anae off a redshirt year for more depth behind Potter.

The biggest question is who will run the offense. After graduating Danielle Rodriguez, the Utes will try to fill the experience void with youth, including returning point guard Erika Bean and incoming recruit Kiana Moore. Ball security is potentially a bigger problem for a group that was 11th in turnover margin (-4.79) with a four-year starter leading the group.

But Roberts and the Utes also have the benefit of a full offseason together — one without the awkward stages of getting to know one another, and plunging straight into the work. Roberts said she has seen increased desire and drive in offseason workouts, as the players got a taste of what they can achieve.

"It's a good year, not a great year," Roberts said. "I think it just sets the tone, and it lit a fire under them to commit a little more."

Twitter: @kylegoon —

Looking ahead

After an 18-15 season with a run to the third round of the WNIT, the Utes are looking for more next year:

Key departures • PG Danielle Rodriguez, G Katie Kuklok

Returning standouts • C Emily Potter, F Paige Crozon, F Malia Nawahine

Notable additions • W Daneesha Provo (transfer), G Kiana Moore, W Megan Jacobs