Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts calls out from the bench during game against BYU at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
University of Utah women’s basketball coach Lynne Roberts is putting her money where her mouth is.
For years, the eight-year coach of the now-nationally ranked Utes has stressed the need for her program to become more involved with the community, and vice versa. She would like to see local fans pack the Huntsman Center, as they often do for the Red Rocks, and get the kind of support that Pac-12 rivals Arizona and Washington get on their home courts.
This week Roberts and the U. announced the launch of a community series called “Utes Beyond the Paint,” a program designed to connect community members with the program’s players and coaches, particularly those in need.
Roberts has pledged to donate $100 to the effort for every 3-pointer her team makes during Pac-12 home games through the rest of the season.
Utes Beyond the Paint was scheduled to debut Friday night, but the game against Arizona State has been canceled because the Sun Devils do not have enough healthy players to participate. It will count as a forfeit for ASU and a conference win for Utah, 14-1 and ranked No. 10 in the nation, in the Pac-12 standings.
So the kickoff event will come Sunday against No. 14 Arizona (14-2, 4-1) at the Huntsman Center (noon, Pac-12 Networks) and will benefit the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in Salt Lake City. The Hope Lodge provides free lodging for cancer patients and their caregivers, sort of a home away from home.
Games against the Los Angeles schools Jan. 27 and 29 will benefit Show Up Utah: Unified Sports.
The games Feb. 10 and 12 (Washington schools) will benefit the Salt Lake City Food Justice Coalition. The games against the Bay Area schools (Feb. 23 and Feb. 25) will benefit the Salt Lake City Food Bank.
“I think it has been received really well,” Roberts told the Deseret News on Wednesday. “I am really excited about it. The bottom line is that I love this place, and my family (loves it). We love Salt Lake City, even though we are transplants. We feel like this is home.”
Roberts said although the city and state have plenty to offer, there are still unmet needs in the community, so it was her brainchild to offer support, as well as seek ways to get people more connected with her program.
“That is very near and dear to me, personally. I like the (bible) verse (that says) where much is given, much is expected. I have been given so much, and this community needs support. So that was kind of the genesis of it. I hope (by) my giving, I want to not make it about me, but to inspire others to give.”
Not getting to play ASU will save Roberts some Benjamins, but the high-scoring Utes should be able to make it up in their other seven remaining home games. Utah is the nation’s No. 4 team in scoring (87.3 ppg.) and uses the 3-pointer as effectively as any team in the country.
Sophomore Gianna Kneepkens is fourth in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (48%) and No. 1 in the Pac-12. Junior forward Alissa Pili, a transfer from USC, is on the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award Midseason Watch List as one of the top 21 players in the country.
Pili leads the Utes in scoring with a 19.3 average, which is third in the Pac-12 and 24th nationally.
Utah is coming off its first loss of the season, a 77-67 setback at Colorado, and could be without one of its top players for a bit. Sophomore guard Kennady McQueen was in a walking boot Wednesday while her teammates practiced. She scored 10 points and had three steals against the Buffs, but the injury didn’t happen in Boulder last weekend.
“It has been kinda happening,” Roberts said. “The pain is to a point where we don’t want her to play through significant pain. … She is day-to-day. She’s got a leg injury and we are trying to get it to calm down.”
Meanwhile, fans who attend the Utes’ remaining home games will learn how to contribute to the chosen partners in multiple ways, all while seeing a very good basketball team, Roberts promises.
“Let’s do this, Salt Lake City,” she said.
Utes on the air
No. 14 Arizona (14-2, 4-1)
at No. 10 Utah (14-1, 3-1)
Sunday, 12 p.m. MST
At Jon M. Huntsman Center
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700
Attendance is growing, but not at the rate Roberts would like. The Utes drew an announced crowd of 2,109 for Southern Utah on Dec. 22, an announced crowd of 2,162 for UC Riverside on Dec. 17 and an announced crowd of 1,894 for Colorado in its Pac-12 opener on Dec. 14.
“I think every community has its (differences),” Roberts said. “In Tucson, in women’s basketball, there are like 10,000 fans every game, and the average age is like 77. … Which is awesome. They have done a great job with that. So every community is different.
“I think ours is very family-centered. So we are going to have to target those families, kids, those sorts of (age groups) in getting community support.”
Utah Utes forward Jenna Johnson shoots past Colorado Buffaloes center Aaronette Vonleh at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News