Women’s Basketball Claims Important Victories in Nail-Biting Weekend in Oregon


Julia Chuang

The University of Utah women’s basketball team takes on Idaho at the Jon. M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Nov. 7 2022. (Photo by Julia Chuang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Abbey Thomas, Assistant Sports Editor


With a little over a month to go before the start of the NCAA tournament, the University of Utah women’s basketball team headed to Oregon this weekend for a couple rounds of grueling Pac-12 play. Hosted by Oregon State and later Oregon, the Utes had their work cut out for them as they sought a double victory away from home.

The first matchup — against the Beavers — displayed some March Madness-worthy competition from both sides that ended with a dramatic series of free-throws to crown the Utes victorious. Forward Alissa Pili, who was just named a finalist for the Katrina McClain Award, took the lead in points scored with a total of 23, including the game-winning free throws in overtime.

In addition to claiming the game’s final points, Pili was the one to open up the score as well with a jumper from the paint to put the Utes up two over the Beavers. A quick three from Kennady McQueen and a jumper each from Pili and Jenna Johnson pushed Utah up to nine, with Oregon State holding on at four. A series of three-pointers courtesy of McQueen and Kelsey Rees brought the first quarter to an end at a cool 22-9, with the Beavers trying to keep pace.

Johnson opened the second quarter with two successful free throws, before both teams went scoreless for over two minutes until Gianna Kneepkens broke the silence with another set. Soon thereafter, the Beavers started to pick up speed as AJ Marotte set the team in motion with her own set of free throws, and Oregon jumped up to 21 points before long. Utah would remain scoreless for the rest of the quarter, while the Beavers had a few more successful baskets to end the first half at 38-27.

Carrying their energy into the second half, Oregon State continued to creep up on the Utes and narrow the score gap. After Pili opened up with a layup in the paint, Oregon’s Raegan Beers fired off a jumper and two free throws to get within 10 of the Utes. Kneepkens and Pili pushed ahead with Kneepkens adding a three followed by a Pili layup, with each completing another free throw to bring the Utes to 49. The Beavers fought back with two three pointers, and before long were within eight of Utah, ending the quarter at 54-46.

Heading into the last quarter, the tensions were high as both teams hustled to nab all the points they could – continuing the trend of the game. Pili hit first with a good jumper before Johnson added some free throws, and Dasia Young followed through for a three. Oregon added 7 more points over the next three minutes, keeping Utah at bay. The two teams fought for points back and forth before the Beavers threw two more threes, as the Utes struggled with some missed shots. A last minute layup by Timea Gardiner tied the two teams, and the game carried on into overtime.

Determined to outdo their ranked opponent, the Beavers were the first on the board with a good jumper, before Kneepkens fired back with a solid three pointer, refusing to let Oregon step ahead. Oregon set up another jumper, and after Kneepkens delivered a couple of free throws, Pili stepped in to deliver the final blow and secure the Utes’ win at an uncomfortably close 75-73.

After Friday’s conquering of Oregon State, the Utes moved on to the University of Oregon Ducks on Sunday. However, the Ducks wouldn’t let them get away any more smoothly, pushing Utah into the triple digits with only eight points of difference between them.

Unsurprisingly, the game started with an opening three from none other than Pili, assisted by McQueen. Kneepkens attempted to follow with a missed three, allowing for a rebound layup from Oregon’s Chance Gray. Over the next minute, McQueen launched two threes before Johnson landed one as well. Oregon continued to rebound successfully and snuck ahead of the Utes, ultimately claiming the first quarter at 22-23.

Kelsey Rees was the one to open up the second quarter, this time with a layup. Freshman Teya Sidberry came in to make her mark with two jumpers from the paint, and a quick series of threes from Kneepkens and Pili pushed the Utes up to 42-39. Johnson secured the last shot of the quarter with a three from the back, giving Utah the lead going into the half at 47-41.

If the first half wasn’t bringing enough action to start with, the two teams really set off in the third quarter. McQueen jumped in to start with a three pointer, chased by Pili and Johnson with a layup apiece from the paint. Oregon retaliated with a multitude of jumpers, pushing Johnson to throw two more layups in defense. Neck and neck at 62-61, junior Isabel Palmer assisted Pili in a layup with Johnson shooting another three. The Utes found a good groove and Sidberry finished it off with a final layup, leaving the score 76-71.

Oregon stole the opening of the fourth and final quarter with two jumpers, coming within a point of the Utes. Over the next minute and a half, Utah would claim one point while the Ducks caught up to 76, when Pili nudged them ahead with a layup. Radio silence followed for two more minutes, with neither team finding the basket before Pili shot a three. With just four minutes left and within four points of each other, Utah launched a campaign of free throws with Pili, Kneepkens, and Palmer each delivering a set of successful baskets to end the match at an even 100, with Oregon at a respectable 92.

Pili was once again a scoring leader in the match against the Ducks — with a cool 30 points — as well as for rebounds and a personal career record of six assists. Pili’s prime performance this weekend is just one example of why the forward was named a top-10 finalist for the Katrina McClain Award, which is presented annually to the NCAA’s top power forward in the nation. The finalists will be narrowed to a top five at the end of the month, and a recipient will likely be announced in March.

Following a tense yet triumphant weekend in the Beaver state, the Utah women’s basketball team returns home to host Washington State and the University of Washington in another Pac-12 showdown at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.


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