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An 11-0 start was everything Utah women's basketball wanted.
The tide was rising for the Utes last month before entering Pac-12 play, and an opening week split on the road was a solid start. But last weekend, dropping both games against visiting Arizona programs, the humming start hit a pothole.
What if Utah had taken a loss or two before conference play, coach Lynne Roberts wonders now.
"Like I told the team yesterday, sometimes prosperity can be a lousy teacher," she said Wednesday. " We have to improve and there's a lot of things we have to get better at. I hate losing more than I can express, but sometimes it's good for you."
The Utes are lined up for the possibility of more bitter medicine at home this week: No. 13 Stanford visits on Friday night, followed by No. 24 Cal. Both have been tough foes for Utah (12-3, 1-3) since the start of the Pac-12 era, particularly the Cardinal, who are 20-0 against the Utes all-time.
But for Utah, it's a reminder and a wake-up call. After losing a game to Arizona State where it was tough to score, then to Arizona where it was tough to make a stop, the Utes are looking to bring it all together in the hopes they can score an upset or two and regain momentum.
"I had to pump them up a little but yesterday for practice because they're mad not just that we lost, but that we didn't play well," Roberts said. "We have to get back to working on getting better."
The core of Utah's struggles last week were grounded in what Roberts called "mental lapses" not guarding shooters, not remembering what scheme the team was running. After shooting under 32 percent against the Sun Devils, Utah improved in its next game, but couldn't stop Arizona which shot 48.6 percent.
In retrospect, Roberts said the Arizona State loss "punched us in the mouth," and it was difficult to recover in time to face the Wildcats, who came ready to play. So the Utah team that started undefeated finds itself tied with six other Pac-12 squads with a 1-3 record. While the Pac-12, which has six ranked teams this week and is probably the toughest conference in the country, it's little consolation to Utah, which is attempting to improve upon last year's seventh-place finish.
For inspiration, Roberts looks no further than her next opponent. A 10-time conference coach of the year, Tara VanDerveer has cultivated a winning culture at Stanford with 847 career victories there. They don't beat themselves, Roberts said, and they take great shots they get with moving the ball.
Roberts is only in her second year, but says she strives to create a definable identity for Utah. With two more home games on the way, she said, the Utes can work anew on creating the culture they started crafting in the non-conference schedule.
"Win or lose, I want the other team to walk off exhausted and saying that Utah is really tough," she said. "I want other teams to think we're tough to beat, that it's physically and mentally tough to play at Utah."
No. 13 Stanford at Utah
R At the Huntsman Center
Tipoff • 6 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Networks