LSU women’s basketball takes on Utah on Friday at 4:00 p.m. CT in Greenville, South Carolina in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. After passing the first two tests with ease, the Tigers enter this game as the lower seed and will play a Utah team that’s incredibly potent and capable of ending LSU’s season.
Here, we’re going to go into depth about what makes Utah click, where its strengths are, and how LSU matches up. Let’s get into it.
Utah’s resume and NCAA Tournament
As the regular season co-champions of the Pac-12, Utah has a 27-4 record overall to go with a 15-3 conference record. Stanford has long been the class of the conference, so for Utah to step in and challenge the Cardinals for the top spot firmly put the Utes on the map. Non-conference wins over Oklahoma, Alabama, and Ole Miss highlight an otherwise weak schedule, but it fueled them to a 14-0 heading into January.
Utah went 11-4 the rest of the way, including splitting games with Stanford and Colorado, the other two top teams in the Pac-12. A 10-point road loss to Arizona is excusable, but an eight-point loss to Washington State in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament handed Utah a fourth loss and a bad taste heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Utah ranked No. 7 in the NET and ended the year No. 29 in strength of schedule, which pushed them to the 2-seed line over LSU and Notre Dame.
In the first round, Utah cruised past 15-seed Gardner-Webb, but quickly faced problems against 10-seed Princeton.
What makes Utah good
It really starts with the 3-point shooting and overall offensive efficiency. Utah is No. 4 in the country in offensive rating, scoring 112.6 points per 100 possessions. The Utes are first in the Pac-12 in every shooting category besides free throw percentage, where they are second at 78.6 percent. Utah shot 36.3 percent from deep in conference and 53 percent from two. They had the most assists in the conference at 16.5 per game, assisting on over 61 percent of their baskets.
All five of the starters attempt at least 2.2 3-pointers per game, with Kennaday McQueen and Gianna Kneepkens attempting over five per contest this season. Six players average between 2.1 and 3.1 assists per game on this team. The fluidity of the offense is impressive.
Ultimately, it all comes back to Alissa Pili, though. Pili is the Pac-12 Player of the Year and will be at the top of the scouting report for LSU. At 6-foot-1, Pili averages 21 points on 59.1 percent shooting and 42.4 percent from 3-point range on 2.2 attempts per game. A lot of Utah’s offense runs through her both in the low post and at the top of the key. They routinely run high-low sets for her to make entry passes.
With the 3-point shooting on the court, Utah can make plays like these and give their forwards space to operate. Pili will attack in her one-on-one situations and look to draw fouls against an LSU defense that could be reluctant to overhelp. Here’s an example of Princeton being so occupied with their shooting in transition that Utah gets an easy two.
It’s undeniably one of the best offenses in the country and has the shooting potential to beat anyone.
Where Utah struggles
While the offense is exceptional, the defense has very clear limitations. The defensive rating ranks 102nd in the country and the Utes’ field goal percentage defense is 175th. It’s very clear Utah does not have the length or size to really deter shots at the rim, ranking 9th in blocks per game in the Pac-12. Teams in the conference shot 43.4 percent on Utah, the 10th worst mark out of 12 teams.
Furthermore, rebounding is a serious concern entering this game for Utah. The Utes allowed 20 offensive rebounds to Princeton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and ranked 6th in total rebounding rate in the Pac 12. In two games against Stanford, Utah was outrebounded by a total of 18 boards. They try to team rebound on defense, but their offensive rebounding is non-existent really, even with some long rebounds off of 3-pointers.
Turnovers is the one area where the Utes can get in trouble on offense, with 14.4 per game. They don’t force many turnovers themselves, so it’s something to watch going into this game.
How LSU matches up
If I’m an LSU fan, I love this matchup. I’ve maintained that elite defenses and comparable size and athleticism is what gives this team trouble (South Carolina, Tennessee, Ole Miss), and Utah is not that type of team. The Utes offense is very crisp with nice quick-hitters and aggressive one-on-one situations that can lead to kickouts for threes, but LSU’s individual defense has been incredible in two games this tournament. Michigan couldn’t shoot the 3-ball as well, but had guards just as good as Utahs and Kateri Poole, Flau’Jae Johnson, and Alexis Morris really locked them up.
Reese should also be able to keep Pili out of the paint effectively and can also shuffle her feet to stay in front.
Three-point shooting teams have not had success against LSU for the most part this year.
Utah makes 8.3 3-pointers per game, tied for 21st most in the country. LSU has played four teams that averaged 7.5 or more made threes this year: Alabama (W by 38), Missouri (W by 20), Arkansas (W by 24, W by 3) and UAB (W by 35). Four of the five games have been blowout wins, with the one close game coming against Arkansas in their second meeting when the Razorbacks made 10 3-pointers and forced 17 LSU turnovers.
Utah is clearly better than those teams because of a player like Pili that can create and score on the inside, but that returns to my initial point. Utah will have to score on LSU in one-on-one situations and create off the dribble. As one of the better offenses in the country, the Utes kill defenses for their mistakes, but through two games, LSU’s defense has been virtually flawless, allowing just 92 points in its first two games.
Here’s another stat for you.
LSU ranks No. 12 in the country in field goal percentage defense. Utah has only faced one other team in the top 40 of FG% defense (Ole Miss). The Utes shot 3-of-17 from deep against the Rebels and were down two going to the fourth quarter before coming back to win 69-67.
On the other side of the ball, the attack will once again start with Angel Reese. Stanford forward Cameron Brink had 39 points and 26 rebounds in her two games against Utah. I expect Reese to have another huge night. Michigan was bigger than Utah. Unless the Utes bring in 6-foot-5 sophomore Kelsey Reese to try to clog up the paint, I see the offense looking a lot like it did against Michigan.
I will add, though, Alexis Morris could be really dangerous in ball screens with whoever Pili is guarding. Pili played exclusively drop coverage from what I saw, sitting in the paint and letting guards take open mid range jumpers. That could be where Morris gets a few if the offense gets bogged down. As long as LSU does not revert back to being turnover prone, I think the offense should generate good looks.
The post Sweet 16 Preview: LSU WBB faces dangerous Utah offense appeared first on On3.