Utah Women’s Basketball Loses Heartbreaker in Sweet 16


Xiangyao Tang

University of Utah women’s basketball forward Dasia Young (34) in the game versus the Princeton Tigers at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, March 19, 2023. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Isaac Dunaway, Sports Writer


The Utah women’s basketball team fell just short of the win in a back-and-forth Sweet 16 matchup against the LSU Tigers. The Utes fell 66-63 at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina.

Utah made the trip to Greenville after winning two NCAA tournament games at the Huntsman Center. The first round pitted them against the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs, where the Utes won 103-77. The highlight was star forward Alissa Pili, who put up a near triple-double with 33 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Pili followed this up with another dominant performance in the second round against the No. 10 Princeton Tigers. She scored 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, helping Utah to a 63-56 win to advance to the Sweet 16.

Friday’s game against LSU was a slugfest. The Tigers jumped out to a quick 13-6 lead aided by two baskets from Kateri Poole. Utah clawed back and ended the quarter on a 10-3 run. Gianna Kneepkens scored five points in this stretch and Kennady McQueen nailed a three as well, tying the game 16-16 after the first quarter.

McQueen hit another three to start the second quarter, giving Utah the lead. After a slow next few minutes, Utah extended the lead to 25-18 on another Kneepkens bucket. LSU refused to stay too far behind, however. With two baskets and a free throw from LaDazhia Williams, the Tigers tied the game at 27 with three minutes to play before halftime.

After another Williams bucket, Inês Vieira stole the ball from LSU’s Flau’jae Johnson in transition. McQueen missed a three-point attempt seconds later. Dasia Young hustled and got the rebound, and Kneepkens cashed in on a three-pointer to retake the lead. The Utes would not look back before halftime, entering the break on a 6-0 run and a 33-29 lead.

The second half was more of the same, with neither team being able to build much of a lead. LSU’s Williams kept up her nice game, scoring six points in the first two and a half minutes. Utah left her open on a couple of mid-range jumpers. She took advantage and knocked them down. 

After LSU briefly took a 41-39 lead, however, Pili knocked down a straight-on three to retake the lead with four minutes to go in the third. Issy Palmer finished the quarter off strong for the Utes, driving in and finishing on a layup to tie the game at 44. She then drained a pull-up three-pointer at the end of the third to give Utah a 47-46 lead.

Utah and LSU traded scores throughout the first few minutes of the fourth quarter. LSU then went on a 10-0 run highlighted by a pair of three-pointers from Poole and Alexis Morris. Down 60-52 with less than four minutes to go, the Utes needed a run and they got it. Kneepkens hit two free throws and a three-pointer, cutting the lead to 61-57. She then scored in transition and hit two more free throws. After Palmer hit a pair of free throws, Utah took a 63-61 lead with just over a minute left to play.

LSU star Angel Reese hit a free throw to trim the lead to one. After the Tigers got a stop, Morris drained two free throws after an offensive rebound, putting LSU up one with 10 seconds left. Kneepkens got the ball on the next possession and drove to the basket, but missed the shot. Jenna Johnson was fouled on the rebound with just under five seconds left and went to the line.

Unfortunately, Johnson missed both free throws. LSU got the ball and drained two more free throws, extending the lead to three with two seconds left. Young put up a desperation three as the buzzer sounded, but the shot bounced off the side of the backboard. The Utes fell just short, losing 66-63 to LSU.

Kneepkens put together a great performance in the loss, going for 20 points, eight rebounds and three steals. Nine of her points came in the last few minutes, bringing Utah back from an eight-point hole and gaining the lead. Pili was held in check relative to her dominant performances in the first two rounds. She scored 14 points, being limited to just eight shot attempts as LSU’s defense swarmed her.

The loss marks an end to a fantastic season for head coach Lynne Roberts’ squad. The Utes won the Pac-12 regular season championship for the first time ever. Utah also advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 2005-06 season. The future looks bright, as there aren’t any seniors on the team this year. The core that accomplished everything this year will be back.


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