Women’s basketball: Alissa Pili leads No. 9 Utah to win over USC, her former team

Utah forward Alissa Pili looks to pass during a game Dec. 14, 2022, in Salt Lake City.
Utah forward Alissa Pili, pictured Dec. 14, scored 21 points against her former team to lead the No. 9 Utes to an 83-73 victory over USC on Friday night.
(Tyler Tate / Associated Press)

Alissa Pili scored 21 points and Kennedy McQueen had 17 points and sank five three-pointers to lead No. 9 Utah to an 83-73 victory over USC on Friday night.

Pili, who played three seasons for the Trojans and transferred to Utah after last season, shot nine for 13 from the field to pace an efficient offensive attack for the Utes (17-2, 7-2 Pac-12 Conference).

Gianna Kneepkens contributed 16 points for Utah, which shot 53% from the field and outscored USC 42-26 in the paint.


The Utes overcame a late rally by the Trojans after making only two baskets in the fourth quarter.

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“It’s hard to be up and continue to have that killer instinct, and that’s part of our development,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “We just kind of took our foot off the gas, and offensively, we were sputtering.”

Rayah Marshall had 15 points and 11 rebounds and Destiny Littleton also scored 15 points for USC (15-5, 5-4). The Trojans’ four-game winning streak ended. Okako Adika contributed 12 points on four three-pointers.

USC's Rayah Marshall handles the ball against Washington State on Jan. 14, 2022.
Rayah Marshall, shown Jan. 14, finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds for USC in Friday’s loss, which ended the Trojans’ four-game winning streak.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

After trailing by 20 points in the second half, the Trojans trimmed their deficit to single digits midway through the fourth quarter. Adika and Littleton made back-to-back three-pointers to cut Utah’s lead to 74-68.

The Utes went nearly 10 minutes without scoring a basket before McQueen ended the drought with her fourth three-pointer.


McQueen’s final outside basket put Utah up 83-73 with 52 seconds left.

“They started cutting into the lead, and we just found a way to win,” McQueen said. “I just think that’s a testament to learning from last year, and, yeah, I think the locker room is really confident right now. We know who we are and we know our strengths, and we’re getting better at our weaknesses.”

USC went nearly 8½ minutes in the first half without making a basket. The Trojans missed nine consecutive shots during that stretch before Littleton ended the slump with back-to-back baskets.

Utah quickly took advantage of the drought. Pili capped a 19-4 run with back-to-back layups, giving the Utes a 31-16 lead in the second quarter. The junior forward fueled the lengthy spurt with four field goals.

Pili scored 17 points by halftime.

“She’s a terrific player. No one knows that more than us,” USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “We just let her be too comfortable in the first half. A player of that ability, if you let her into her sweet spot, she’s going to score.”

Utah used a 12-2 run fueled by three baskets from Kneepkens to build its largest lead of the game late in the third quarter. Jenna Johnson capped the run with a layup, putting the Utes ahead 69-49.

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Big picture

USC: An inability to capitalize on defensive stops ultimately hurt the Trojans. USC forced 10 turnovers but scored only four points on those takeaways.

Utah: The Utes imposed their will around the basket on offense early, and it led to a highly efficient shooting performance over the first 2½ quarters.


Up next

USC: Visits No. 25 Colorado on Sunday.

Utah: Hosts No. 8 UCLA on Sunday.