Kelly Graves’ peers voted Oregon No. 1 in the Pac-12 preseason women's basketball poll.
And so far the Ducks (19-1, 8-0), the defending conference champions, are living up to the billing.
But it appears the coaches were sleeping on Lynne Roberts and the Utes, who were picked to finish eighth entering the season.
Three months later, No. 4 Oregon hosts No. 14 Utah in a battle for first place Friday at Matthew Knight Arena (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
The surging Utes (18-1, 7-1) broke into the Associated Press poll last week for the first time since 2008 and are coming off the program’s first-ever win over Stanford.
“Did I think they would be 18-1 right now? That’s tough,” Graves said. “But Lynne’s done a great job. She’s built it the right way.
“I think everybody knew they were going to be the team that was on the rise, but what they’ve done has been incredible.”
Utah is fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring (76.9 ppg) and third in scoring defense (59.2 ppg).
During the 75-68 victory over then-No. 6 Stanford in Salt Lake City, the Utes held the Cardinal to 38.5 percent shooting from the field, including 28.6 percent from 3-point distance.
Oregon’s veteran players remember what it was like to exceed preseason expectations when they helped end the program’s long NCAA Tournament drought two years ago.
“We came up, too, so I think we know them well and what they can do,” junior forward Ruthy Hebard said. “We’re definitely not going to take this game lightly, and I’m excited to play them and see what everyone is talking about.”
Utah ’s lineup includes three proven upperclassmen (Megan Huff, Kiana Moore and Erika Bean) and four freshmen, including a pair of the Pac-12’s top newcomers (Dru Gylten and Dre’Una Edwards).
Oregon counters with the decorated trio of Sabrina Ionescu, Maite Cazorla and Hebard and dynamic sophomores Satou Sabally and Erin Boley.
During last weekend’s road sweep, Sabally scored a career-high 33 points at Washington State, and Boley scored a career-high 31 points at Washington.
“People are going to have to respect all of the players on the court now. We have great shooters, great drivers, all-around players,” Hebard said. “Coach (Graves) says they’re going to have to pick who they want to guard, who they want to double-team. I think we’re always going to find the hot hand.”
Ionescu leads the NCAA in assists per game (8.4) and total assists (168). Cazorla is averaging 4.8 assists per game. Hebard is third nationally in field-goal percentage (69.1) and leads the team in rebounding (9.3 per game).
Sabally made eight 3-pointers in Pullman, and Boley tied the school record with nine 3-pointers in Seattle.
“I’ve kind of figured out that is sort of my role with this team,” Boley said. “ On any given night, any of us could heat up. That’s part of what makes us really special.”
Oregon has won 12 consecutive games overall and is off to its best start to a Pac-12 season.
Utah, which is 5-0 on the road this season, is in a three-way tie for second place with No. 8 Stanford and No. 9 Oregon State.
“It was not a fluke they beat us,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said after her team’s loss to the Utes. “They played better than us.”