Pili, Kneepkens lead No. 8 Utah past California 87-62
By SONJA CHEN
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Alissa Pili and Gianna Kneepkens each scored 20 points to lead No. 8 Utah to an 87-62 rout of California on Sunday.
Kneepkens hit four of five 3-point attempts and had 10 rebounds for her first double-double of the season. Jenna Johnson added 15 points for Utah (16-2, 6-2 Pac-12), which bounced back from Friday’s 74-62 loss at No. 4 Stanford.
“I think it was a must-win for us to stay in the hunt for (the) championship,” Utes head coach Lynne Roberts said. “Cal has been so close in so many games. I was nervous coming into this one, just how we would respond after such an emotional loss at Stanford where we played hard.”
The Utes jumped out to a 10-point lead at halftime and rode a big third quarter to the win, outscoring the Golden Bears 30-19 on 65% shooting from the field.
“We played a much more complete second half,” Roberts said. “Especially in that third quarter. I think we just kind of had the knockout punch there.”
Utah was able to capitalize on its opponent’s mistakes with 23 points off Cal turnovers. The Utes also held a 41-27 advantage on the boards, scoring 16 second-chance points off 10 offensive rebounds.
“We struggled to guard and struggled to keep them off the glass, particularly in the second half,” Cal head coach Charmin Smith said.
Jayda Curry had 15 points and eight assists for California (10-9, 1-7), extending her streak of 41 consecutive games with a 3-pointer. Leilani McIntosh added 10 points, and Kemery Martin and Evelien Lutje Schipholt had nine apiece.
The Golden Bears have lost five straight games, four of which have come against ranked opponents. Cal’s difficult schedule continues with No. 23 Oregon’s visit to Haas Pavilion on Friday, though the Ducks have lost three of their last four.
“All these teams, they’re where we want to be, what we’re striving to be,” Smith said. “Sometimes when you lose, it challenges you … in terms of your character and your work ethic and all of that. I don’t think we have any quitters on this team. I think we’ll stay with it and continue to look for ways to be better.”
Utah, which trails only Stanford in the Pac-12 standings, has a tough week ahead with upcoming games against Southern California — receiving votes in The Associated Press Top 25 poll — and No. 8 UCLA.
“USC is so physical and defensive-minded, so it’s going to be the battle of wills, their defense against our kind of offense,” Roberts said. “But we can defend too. I think we showed that today.”
Utah: The Utes evened the all-time series against the Bears at 14-all, winning the last four contests dating back to 2021. … Utah entered play ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in 3-point shooting (.342) and shot 11 of 23 (47.8%) from deep Sunday. Six players made a 3 for the Utes.
California: The Golden Bears are 0-7 against ranked opponents this season. … Sunday’s loss clinched California’s first losing month of the season. The Bears have a 1-5 record in January after going 5-1 in November and 4-3 in December to open the season.
Utah: The Utes kick off a two-game homestand against Southern California Friday.
California: The Golden Bears are set to play their fourth straight ranked opponent when they host No. 23 Oregon Friday.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll