Pili scores 21, Utah holds off late USC rally to win 83-73
By JOHN COON
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Alissa Pili scored 21 points and Kennedy McQueen added 17 behind five 3-pointers to lead No. 9 Utah to an 83-73 victory over Southern California on Friday night.
Pili shot 9 of 13 from the floor to pace an efficient offensive attack from the Utes (17-2, 7-2 Pac-12). Gianna Kneepkens added 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.
“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), which had its four-game winning streak snapped. Odako Adika added 12 points on four 3-pointers.
After trailing by as many as 20 in the second half, the Trojans trimmed the deficit to single digits midway through the fourth quarter. Adika and Littleton made back-to-back 3-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 3-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 in that stretch before Littleton ended the dry spell with back-to-back baskets.
Utah quickly took advantage of the prolonged 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, who spent her first three seasons at USC before transferring to Utah, scored 17 points by halftime.
’She’s a terrific player. No one knows that more than us,” USC coach Lindsey 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.
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 2 1/2 quarters.
USC: visits Colorado on Sunday.
Utah: hosts No. 8 UCLA on Sunday.
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