December 6, 2023
Utah moving on without Gianna Kneepkens’ poise, presence and perimeter scoring
Roberts: 'We had to grieve it'
Gianna Kneepkens’ season-ending foot injury was greeted with the appropriate amount of sadness, grief and emotion in the hours after the Utah junior wing went down late in the Utes’ 87-68 win over BYU on Saturday.
But now, with a cold, hard light shining on the end of the non-conference schedule, 11th-ranked Utah must move on without the two-time All-Pac-12 guard, heading out for a two-game trip that includes a Thursday game in Philadelphia against an unbeaten St. Joseph’s team, followed by a Sunday date at the Mohegan Sun, where Utah will take on No. 1 South Carolina.
The moment to process the loss is already in the rear view mirror.
“We had to grieve it,” said Utes coach Lynne Roberts. “We beat BYU pretty convincingly, but it felt pretty empty. I think we took Sunday to get our mind around it. We had a great team meeting on Monday and the team shared and people cried and you have to go through that process.
“And so now we bounce back and there’s nothing more you can say.”
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Kneepkens right foot injury – which includes two broken bones and a torn ligament, will require surgery. The silver lining is that Kneepkens will be able to use her redshirt season.
It was a strange circumstance that led to the injury, Kneepkens dribbling near the top of the key, no defender within six feet of her, and preparing for a step-back jumper when her foot got “stuck”, as Roberts described it.
“She kind of fell on her butt and looked over at me and said ‘This isn’t good’, like deadpan. Just straight at me.”
Replacing Kneepkens, who has been the team’s most productive perimeter threat since she arrived on campus two years ago is not going to be an easy thing. Before her injury, Kneepkens was averaging 17.8 points per game, shooting 54 percent from beyond the arc.
“You don’t replace her,” Roberts said. “But the good news is that we have time to adapt. How do we adjust, it has to be the sum of the parts. Everyone is going to have to do a little bit more.”Sophomore guard Maty Wilke will be in line for more playing time, currently averaging 4.9 points off the bench and will need to assert herself offensively. Same goes for sophomore Lani White and senior forward Dasia Young. And stalwarts like Kennady McQueen, Jenna Johnson and reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year Alissa Pili will all have to up their production.
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“Alissa’s got to carry the load more and she can’t get in foul trouble, she’s got to be on the court,” Roberts said. “It’s not going to be easy, but I don’t think it’s impossible. There’s no choice. We have the talent.”
Pili’s presence on the floor will be particularly critical against South Carolina and post standout Kamilla Cardoso, who is having an All-American start to the season for the top-ranked and undefeated Gamecocks.
Senior guard Isabel Palmer has also missed the past five games, but may be back to play on the weekend.
If anything, Robert acknowledged, Kneepken’s absence on the floor — her presence and poise as much as her scoring — reduces her team’s margin for error.
“We need to get some momentum with this new look we have. We have to be aggressive and not wait for things to happen,” Roberts said. “That’s what I will be looking for.”
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Written by Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.