The Lady Utes kick off their 2014-2015 campaign on Friday night at the Huntsman Center against the San Jose State Spartans. Outside expectations for the Utes are low this year, as they were selected to finish 11th in the Pac-12 preseason coaches poll. The Utes lose star Michelle Plouffe to the WNBA and 2013-14 standout Emily Potter to a torn ACL from a team that finished conference play 4-14 last season. One bright spot for the Utes is the return of forward Taryn Wicijowski who is coming off an ACL tear of her own last season. Utah has two highly touted freshman in Joeseta Fatuesi (6-4 center) and Tanaeya Boclair (6-foot forward) that are sure to see meaningful minutes. Junior point guard Danielle Rodriguez and senior wing Cheyenne Wilson will also provide some veteran leadership for the young Utah squad.
The Utes are looking to start their season off on the right foot after a disastrous exhibition game against the University of Alaska-Anchorage. The Utes started off well enough against their Division II opponent taking a 19-5 lead early on. That’s when Wicijowski appeared to suffer yet another devastating knee injury. The team’s play was clearly affected by their concern for their fallen teammate and Alaska-Anchorage stormed back into the game, pressuring the Utes into 27 turnovers. Wicijowski would end up being okay, coming back later in the game to finish with four points nine rebounds and six assists. The tone had already been set, however, and the Seawolves of Alaska-Achorage were able to rattle off eight straight points late in the game to escape the Huntsman center with a shocking 67-61 win.
Luckily for the Lady Utes, exhibition games do not count, and they have a clean slate heading into the regular season. The Utes will get another chance to defend their home court when the Spartans of San Jose State come to play Friday.
The Spartans finished last season 11-19 overall 5-13 in the Mountain West Conference. SJSU is led by guard Ta’Rea Cunnigan. The senior was recently named to the coaches Mountain West preaseaon all conference team for the second straight year. Cunnigan is the leading scorer returning among all Mountain west conference players having averaged 18.4 points per game last season. San Jose State has a couple promising freshman guards in Myzhanique Ladd and Ali Bettencourt. In the Spartans exhibition game against Santa Cruz, Bettancourt scored 12 points, while Ladd recorded four steals to go along with five rebounds. The Spartans also like to shoot the three, having set a Mountain West record for attempts in a game with 42 three-point shots last year against San Diego State. Senior Rebecca Woodbury leads the barrage from behind the arc, holding San Jose State’s all-time career record for three point attempts at 251.
The Spartans fared quite a bit better than Utah during their exhibition game against Santa Cruz, winning by 46 points, 99-53. The Spartans only shot 43.8 percent from the field, but were able to finish with a 61.5 percent free throw percentage to easily steamroll the less talented UC Santa Cruz Fighting Banana Slugs (yes, that is really their mascot).
The Utes will need to play better than they did in their exhibition game to defeat SJSU. The Spartans are a more talented squad than Alaska-Anchorage, and if they can get their three-point shots to fall, it could be a long night for the Utes. Utah will need to defend the perimeter well and keep an eye on Ta’Rea Cunnigan to keep her from going off. The good news for the Utes is the Spartans have struggled both in road opening games and against Pac-12 teams. In the last 10 years, San Jose State is just 2-8 in road openers, while they're 1-4 when playing Pac-12 teams. Friday’s game should provide the Utes a good opportunity to get their feet back under them and show that the exhibition game was just a fluke.
Friday’s game is at 5 p.m. MT and will be streamed at pac-12.com. ESPN700 will have the radio play-by-play call.