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San Francisco • Emily Potter laughed. Lynne Roberts dismissed it with a wave of her hand.
The preseason poll rankings don't mean much to the Utah women's basketball program. But picked by the Pac-12 coaches to finish eighth in the league this season up from an 11th-place projection this time last year it's clear that the expectations for the Utes are rising
On that front, Utah can agree.
"Where we started at the beginning of this year is tremendously further than where we were last year," senior forward Paige Crozon said. "We've got a lot of work to do before the season starts, but we're working hard and we're happy where we are right now."
With four starters returning from an 18-15 season and a seventh-place finish in the league last year, Utah seems poised to make another step in what should be a fiercely competitive league. Roberts is entering her second year as head coach, giving the Utes a full offseason with her philosophies in place.
Many of the faces will be familiar. Potter, a 6-foot-6 junior, is back after averaging over 15 points and 10 rebounds a game to become one of the top post players in the country last year. Crozon was her top wingman last season, averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds per contest.
The duo was among the leaders in bringing Utah back to the postseason last year, a third-round run in the WNIT. But expect the Utes to play faster and look for more stamina after a fade in the second half of conference play.
"We won 18 games, but we wanted to win more than that," Roberts said. "It was a good first step, but the biggest thing is it really did motivate them, and they want more now. It's not inconceivable: They can kind of see that we can hang."
Hanging will be as tough as ever: The Pac-12 is coming off a season in which it was the top RPI conference, and both Washington and Oregon State went to the Final Four. There are 14 returning all-conference players, and five programs have signed top-20 recruiting classes.
UCLA was picked to win the conference, building off a Sweet 16 appearance last season. Stanford, led by coach Tara Vanderveer, was picked second, and Washington was picked third. Last year's co-champs, Arizona State and Oregon State, were picked fourth and fifth, respectively.
Utah was one of the better rebounding teams in the conference (plus-6.5 margin), but had the 11th-ranked scoring defense and struggled to shoot 3-pointers. The Utes feel they'll have a more athletic roster, lending itself to a higher tempo that fits Roberts' system. After redshirting last year, forwards Daneesha Provo and Wendy Anae will add size and shooting to the team both of which were lacking last season.
They'll struggle to replace Dani Rodriguez at point guard, but the Utes hope sophomore Erica Bean is up to the task.
"She's working hard to step into that role," Roberts said. "We need her to."
Crozon described this offseason as one of the hardest on her "old bones," but the Utes hope the fast pace and the elevation of their home court can help transform the Huntsman Center into one of the toughest places to play in the conference. Roberts is proud of a 38-percent increase in attendance last season, as Utah won 12 home games and moved out of last place in attendance for the first time in the conference.
As with every other dimension to her team, Roberts sees more work to do.
"We want them to be worrying about it coming off the plane," she said. "Salt Lake is a sports town. There's no reason we can't keep getting more people to our games."
Pac-12 women's basketball coaches' poll
Team (First Place) Points
1. UCLA (8) 116
2. Stanford (2) 110
3. Washington (2) 93
4. Arizona State 89
5. Oregon State 81
6. California 71
7. Oregon 69
8. Utah 52
9. USC 44
10. Washington St. 31
11. Colorado 22
12. Arizona 14