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Matt Zimmer: What to know about Utah Utes women's basketball

Mar. 18—BROOKINGS — South Dakota State earned a 12-seed in the NCAA tournament and will face 5th-seeded Utah on Saturday in Spokane, Wash., in the first round. That game tips at 9 p.m. Central on Saturday.

It's the Jackrabbits' 12th appearance in the tournament, and they've won five games in their history, including a Sweet 16 berth in 2019. Last year's Rabbits won their first round game against USC before losing to top-seeded Virginia Tech on the Hokies' home floor in the second round.

The Jacks (27-5) are underdogs, but the 5/12 matchup is typically a prime spot for upsets. SDSU has been a 12-seed once before, in 2016, and they upset Miami before very nearly beating Stanford to reach the Sweet 16.

How much of a challenge will the Utes (22-10) present? Here's a look at what they bring to the table this weekend.

Like SDSU, they've been battered by injuries

Gianna Kneepkens and Isabel Palmer are both starters the Utes are playing witout. Kneepkens was an All-American who went down with a foot injury while Palmer was averaging a career-high 14 points per game before getting hurt and struggling to get back onto the floor since.

They made the Sweet 16 last year

The Utes won 27 games last year and were bounced by eventual national champion LSU. They returned all five starters to open the year ranked in the Top 10, but those aformentioned injuries have slowed them.

Alissi Pili is one of the best in the country

The Pac-12 MVP last year, the 6-foot-2 Pili averages 20.8 points per game and can score inside and on the perimeter.

They played a challenging schedule

Nine of their 10 losses came to teams playing in the NCAA tournament.

They have ties to South Dakota

Dru Gylten, a St. Thomas More graduate, played five years for the Utes before transferring to SDSU to finish her career with the Jacks last year. She led the Pac-12 in assists in her final year in Utah and was a key figure on the Jacks' Summit League title team last year.

Reese Ross, a 6-1 all-state forward from Rapid City (St. Thomas More) is a redshirt on this year's Utes squad. Kneepkens is from Duluth, an area the Jacks are familiar with in recruiting.

They're good on offense and very good on defense

The Utes score 78 points per game and hold opponents to 61.8. They love to shoot it from deep — nearly 47 percent of their field goal attempts are from behind the arc, where they connect at a .366 clip.

Their size should be manageable for SDSU

The Jacks often run into trouble against power conference teams when that team has a dominant post presence in the 6-4 or 6-5 range in height. The Utes have 6-8 Nene Sow, but she doesn't play much at all. The rest of their frontcourt is either 6-1 or 6-2.

Coach Lynne Roberts has restarted a powerful program

The Utes went to 15 NCAA tournaments under longtime coach Elaine Elliott, who retired in 2011. The program then missed the tournament every year until 2022, when Roberts took them to the first of what is now three straight trips to the Big Dance. Their high-water mark wa the Elite Eight under Elliott in 2006.

They haven't played the Jacks in a long time

Utah leads the all-time series 2-1. They won the last meeting, in 2007.