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Utah Women’s Basketball Completes Regular-Season Sweep of USC

Faced with top-15 opponents UCLA and USC this weekend in Los Angeles, the Utes had their work cut out for them.
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XIangyao Tang
The Utah women’s basketball celebrate defeating the UCLA Bruins at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Jan. 22, 2024. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

The No. 18 University of Utah women’s basketball team went on their final road trip of the regular season, traveling to Los Angeles this weekend. After taking a tough loss to the No. 12 UCLA Bruins on Thursday, Utah responded with a 74-68 win over the No. 7 USC Trojans on Sunday. This marked Utah’s second win of the season over USC.

UCLA

After Utah defeated UCLA in an overtime thriller at home earlier this season, the Bruins came out looking for revenge and got it right away. UCLA was on fire, scoring on their first five possessions and taking a 12-0 lead in just over two minutes. The Utes finally broke the ice at the 7:24 mark, when Kennady McQueen found a cutting Alissa Pili for a wide open layup.

McQueen made a nice play later when she drove to the basket and scored herself, but UCLA’s onslaught kept coming. After they converted a 3-point play, the lead was 18-4, not even four minutes into the game. The Utes did play better throughout the rest of the quarter, however. After McQueen missed a free throw on a chance for a 3-point play, Pili got the rebound, which led to Inês Vieira scoring a tough shot in the paint. After a nice scoring run from the Utes, the score was 25-15 UCLA at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter was much lower-scoring. Pili scored the first basket of the second quarter off a nice pass from Lani White. The Bruins responded with an 8-2 run that extended their lead to 33-19. Vieira started a 6-0 run for Utah with a coast-to-coast basket, followed by two crafty layups from McQueen. But UCLA picked up six unanswered points in the final 80 seconds of the half, bringing the score to 39-25 Bruins at halftime. McQueen, Pili and Vieira accounted for all of Utah’s 25 first half points.

Maty Wilke drove and kicked the ball out to Dasia Young at the 3-point line, who nailed the three to give Utah the first points of the second half. Pili then made two free throws to cut the lead to single digits, but this was as close as the Utes would get for the rest of the night. The only Utah points for the rest of the third quarter came on two free throws from Young and a jumper from Pili in the final minute. UCLA took full control of the game with a 20-4 run throughout the rest of the quarter and led 59-34 heading into the fourth.

It was a sloppy start to the final quarter for both teams. Nobody scored for the first two minutes of the period, and the Utes didn’t score until two Pili free throws three minutes in. Pili then made a great play driving to the hoop and banking in a tough shot. The Utes just couldn’t do anything to cut into UCLA’s lead, as they kept answering anytime Utah scored. Pili put up eight points in the quarter until she was subbed out in the final minutes, and UCLA came away with a dominant 82-52 victory.

Pili led the way for the Utes, picking up a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, including a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line. McQueen scored 11 points on 5-10 shooting from the field. Two troubling statistics for the Utes were 3-point shooting and turnovers. Normally an excellent 3-point shooting team, Utah shot just 3-15 against the Bruins. They also lost the turnover battle 20-12.

USC

It probably was a good thing the Utah vs USC game wasn’t scheduled until Sunday, as it gave the Utes an extra day to rest and recover from the loss. USC was also looking for revenge after Utah blew them out earlier this season at the Huntsman, but the Utes were ready for the challenge. This also was a return to the Galen Center for Pili, who spent the first three seasons of her collegiate career at USC before transferring to the U.

USC scored quickly to take a 2-0 lead and the score stayed that way for a couple minutes, before Pili got going with a personal 7-0 run. She scored Utah’s first points of the day on a pair of free throws before scoring off a Vieira assist. She then drilled a three off a McQueen assist. Utah’s defense was spectacular in the first quarter, as they held USC to just six points, their lowest single-quarter score all season. After the Trojans turned the ball over, McQueen raced down the court in transition, got fouled but scored anyway. She then hit the free throw to give Utah a 14-6 lead heading into the second quarter.

Both offenses found their rhythm in the second quarter. Wilke scored Utah’s first points of the quarter on a three. After a 6-0 USC run, Wilke hit another three to make it 20-15 Utes. Utah kept the threes flying, as back-to-back-to-back triples turned a 20-17 lead into a 29-19 lead in just over a minute of action. USC fought back and cut Utah’s lead to 34-28 heading into halftime.

It took a couple minutes for the Ute offense to get going in the second half, and Young scored the first basket of the half on a nice drive and layup. On the next possession, she was left open at the 3-point line and nailed the shot, extending Utah’s lead to 39-30. The Trojans answered with nine points in a row to tie the game. The Utes built their lead back with a shot from Young and a three from McQueen. Jenna Johnson then nailed a three to make it 49-41 Utah. At the end of three, Utah was up 50-45.

White made a crafty play getting by USC defenders and scoring the first basket of the fourth quarter. After the Trojans cut the lead to two, Johnson responded with another 3-pointer at the 7:46 mark. USC’s freshman superstar JuJu Watkins was hitting shot after shot, but the just Utes kept responding. With five and a half minutes left, Pili hit a wild shot falling backwards to the ground, making it 59-55. The lead grew back to seven on a pair of Pili free throws and a Young 3-pointer. The game was never really in doubt from that point on, and the Utes left Los Angeles with a 74-68 win over USC.

The Utes played a very sound game overall. Pili led the Utes in scoring with 23 points, nine rebounds and 12-14 free throws. McQueen, Wilke and Young also scored in double figures. Johnson had perhaps her best passing game of the season, recording nine assists.

The Utes still sit at sixth in the Pac-12 standings with two games remaining in the regular season. They’ll return home to the Huntsman Center this week to face Washington State on Thursday and Washington on Saturday for the annual Senior Night game. After that, they’ll head to Las Vegas over spring break for the Pac-12 Tournament.

 

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About the Contributors
Isaac Dunaway, Sports Writer
Isaac Dunaway is a sports writer for The Daily Utah Chronicle. He started this position in October 2021. He is a sophomore at the University of Utah studying communication with an emphasis in journalism. He is also a proud member of the University of Utah Marching Band. He is a native of Salt Lake City.
XIangyao Tang, Photo Director
Axe is a photographer and the photo director of the Daily Utah Chronicle. He is from China and is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in digital photography. Axe joined the Chronicle in August of 2021. In addition to his position at the Chrony, he is also a photo intern for University of Utah Athletics. When he's not writing code, you will find him rock climbing, camping, skiing or hiking with his camera.

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