This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
By now, it's familiar to all of the players: Utah women's basketball practice ends with timed runs up and down the floor for three minutes, with a few seconds of rest thrown in.
Last November, the Utes were struggling through it. This year, they've beaten their goal times easily.
"Spring and summer workouts, I would compare them to death," junior forward Wendy Anae. "It was just awful. But I'm glad I got to suffer with the teammates I have. It's really fun to play when you're in shape"
A full offseason under Lynne Roberts has changed some things around in the program: conditioning, tempo and results. A year after going 18-15 with a 7th-place finish in the Pac-12 and making a run to the third round of the WNIT, the second-year Utah coach has a team more firmly built in her image.
What to expect from the Utes? They'll be faster. They'll be bigger. They'll be more balanced. Roberts believes that will add up to a more competitive team in what is expected to be a meat-grinder of a conference.
"We know these players, we know what buttons to push, what buttons not to push, what makes them tick," Roberts said. "Ultimately, when you combine it all together I think we established our culture of our program. We're still in the building stages, but our identity and what we're about is established. It feels a lot better."
Utah spent a good deal of last fall simply getting in shape. Much of this last month has been spent expanding the playbook, adding new sets and wrinkles, and working on versatility. Players said they have a stronger grasp of the offense, and conditioning will allow them to press and trap more to create fast break opportunities essential in Roberts' uptempo style.
The Utes return their all-conference center junior Emily Potter, who averaged a double-double last season. But teams got wise to Utah's game late in the year, double-teaming or using a zone defense against Potter to take her out of her element.
Besides senior forward Paige Crozon (13 ppg, 8 rpg) as her main wingman, Utah also has seen improved shooting from Tanaeya Boclair (6 for 7 on 3-pointers in an exhibition) and Malia Nawahine on the perimeter. Coming off a redshirt year, the 6-foot-3 Anae is expected to spell Potter for stretches at center along with Joeseta Fatuesi. Transfers Daneesha Provo and Megan Huff add depth in the frontcourt, and former SLCC star Tilar Clark comes off the bench to play guard.
The versatility, especially in the paint, could make Utah a match-up problem for foes.
"We need to take advantage of the mismatches we get," Potter said. "It's definitely not going to be all on me. We've got a lot of players who can shoot it."
The main question comes at point guard, where Utah lost a four-year starter in Danielle Rodriguez. Taking over is sophomore Erika Bean, who will be backed up by freshman Kiana Moore. After averaging 16.5 turnovers per game last year for a minus-4.8 average margin, passing is already a weak point for the team.
"I don't think you replace a player like [Rodriguez] overnight, I think it takes some time," Roberts said. "It's a big jump, going from coming off the bench to leading a Pac-12 team at the point guard position as a sophomore. I'm confident in [Bean] and I'm proud of her."
The Pac-12 is not getting easier: The conference has four top-25 teams, including Washington and Oregon State, who went to the Final Four last year.
"They're hungrier for success," Roberts said. "They got a little taste of it last season and they committed themselves this offseason, and now they want more."
Utah at a glance
Key additions • F Wendy Anae (6-3), G/F Daneesha Provo (6-0), G Tilar Clark
Key losses • Danielle Rodriguez (9.6 ppg), Katie Kuklok (6.6 ppg)
Projected starters • G Erika Bean, G Malia Nawahine (9.1 ppg), G Tanaeya Boclair (7.3 ppg), F Paige Crozon (13.1 ppg), C Emily Potter (15.1 ppg).
Bottom line • The Utes are better conditioned to Lynne Roberts' system, and will have a more complex, higher-tempo look. Emily Potter and Paige Crozon are big pieces to build on, and now-eligible transfers could play valuable roles. Utah will have to win by rebounding the way it did last year, improving shooting and passing smarter to crack the top half of the Pac-12.