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Utah Women’s Basketball Exits NCAA Tournament in Round of 32

The Utes put on a heroic effort, successfully taking down South Dakota State before giving Gonzaga all they had.
Xiangyao Tang
The University of Utah women’s basketball forward Alissa Pili (35) in the game versus Gardner-Webb Bulldogs at Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 17, 2023. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


The University of Utah women’s basketball team spent the weekend in Spokane, Washington for the NCAA tournament. The Utes earned a No. 5 seed in the tournament, and in their first round matchup with the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, they won 68-54.

South Dakota State 

Utah was utterly dominant in the first quarter. After the Jackrabbits scored first with a free throw, Kennady McQueen drove to the hoop and scored a layup to give Utah the lead. This was the start of a 12-0 run for the Utes over the next few minutes. Inês Vieira received a pass on the run from Jenna Johnson, and she swung it over to Alissa Pili for the basket.

A minute later, Johnson was wide open underneath the hoop when her defender fell down, but she probably was not aware of it. She passed it over to Pili who nailed the open three. A layup from Johnson and a stepback three from McQueen finished off the 12-0 run. South Dakota State scored their only field goal of the first quarter with about four and a half minutes to go, and then the Utes finished off the quarter with eight unanswered points. Another three from McQueen went in at the buzzer to make it 20-3 Utah.

As great a first quarter as it was for the Utes, the second quarter went just as poorly. Utah did start off solid, building the lead up to 25-5 at one point, but it went off the rails after that. Pili scored at the 7:18 mark, but the Utes did not score at all the rest of the half. They seemed to get out of sink and lose their rhythm offensively. South Dakota State also finally started hitting shots and they were able to attack the paint better. Towards the end of the half, the referees called a foul on Utah right in front of the Utes bench. The bench didn’t like it and got called for a technical foul, giving the Jackrabbits some free throws. South Dakota State finished the second quarter on a 17-0 run, but Utah still led 27-24 at the half.

The halftime break seemed to come at a great time for the Utes, who came out and looked way better in the third quarter. Pili scored the first points of the half about two minutes in, ending almost a full quarter’s worth of game action without any Utah points. Maty Wilke then drove and scored. Both of those baskets were assisted by Johnson.

After a Jackrabbits free throw, Pili nailed an open three off an inbounds pass from Vieira. About four minutes in, Wilke deflected a South Dakota State pass and scored in transition, making it 36-25 Utes. The Jackrabbits finally scored their first field goal of the second half with a 3-point play at about the five minute mark. Utah was consistently able to attack the paint throughout the rest of the quarter, and the Utes led 53-41 at the end of three.

The fourth quarter was pretty even. South Dakota State scored first, but Johnson responded with a layup. McQueen found some space and drilled a three, followed by a Pili score to make it 60-46. Pili scored again on a beautiful shot off an inbounds pass, and the game was never in doubt from that point on. Pili banked in a three with a little more than two minutes left, and Utah picked up the win 68-54, setting up the second round matchup against Gonzaga.

Pili put up a great performance, scoring 26 points on 11/20 shooting with seven rebounds. McQueen was fantastic as well, putting up 17 points and six assists. Johnson was very close to a double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds. She also recorded four assists. Although it wasn’t a great 3-point shooting performance from the Utes, they consistently created wide open looks inside. Utah shot 19/30 on 2-pointers for the game.


The win set up a matchup with the No. 4-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs on Monday night. Gonzaga won the tip and scored quickly on a jumper, but Utah responded with a Pili basket off of an assist by Johnson. This was the start of a monster night for Pili. She scored Utah’s next basket on a great move cutting left towards the rim. The Utes then got a stop, with Wilke getting a rebound and taking it upcourt towards the rim. She then stopped and swung it back to a wide open Pili at the 3-point line, and Pili nailed it to extend the lead to 7-2.

After Gonzaga responded with a couple baskets, Johnson found Pili again for another three, with this one bouncing up and hitting every part of the rim before falling in. This gave Pili 10 points in just four minutes. The Bulldogs responded with eight points in a row before Johnson picked up another assist when she found McQueen on a backdoor cut. McQueen then drilled a stepback three to give the Utes the lead back on the next possession. After a couple of Pili free throws, she assisted a Dasia Young 3-pointer to make it 20-14. Gonzaga then hit a three of their own, but Johnson nailed a three in the final seconds of the quarter to make it 23-17 Utes at the end of the first quarter.

Unfortunately for Utah, the second quarter woes from round one came back on Monday night. Gonzaga scored the first basket of the period, but Pili responded with a 3-point play off a Lani White assist. The Bulldogs then took a brief lead off an 8-0 run, but McQueen hit a three to give the Utes the lead back at 29-27. Things then turned south, as Gonzaga stayed red hot from three and Utah’s offense was unable to respond. The Bulldogs went on a 14-0 run over the final minutes of the half before Young scored right before halftime. The Utes went into the locker room trailing 41-31. 

The third quarter started and it was more of the same for both sides. Gonzaga’s monster run continued with 11 unanswered points out of the break. The lead ballooned to 52-31, meaning the Bulldogs went on a combined 33-5 run. Pili then hit a three to score Utah’s first points of the second half, but Gonzaga quickly responded with a three of their own.

At this point, the Bulldogs were a ridiculous 11/15 (73%) on 3-point shots. The Utes deserve a lot of credit because they kept fighting and clawed back into this game. Young drove and scored, followed by a Pili basket off a beautiful assist from Vieira. After four free throws from Pili and Johnson cut further into the lead, McQueen made a great drive to the rim and laid it in, capping off a 10-0 Utes run. The teams went back and forth for the rest of the period, and Gonzaga led 62-48 after three.

Vieira found Pili inside for the first basket of the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs quickly responded. After a couple scoreless minutes, Gonzaga hit two free throws to make it 66-50. McQueen quickly drove and scored on the next possession, and Gonzaga hit another free throw on their next possession. Utah then went on a run. Johnson found Wilke for an open three. Pili hit a pair of free throws and then scored off a Wilke assist. Pili then scored again a few possessions later to cut it to 67-61 in the closing minutes. However, this was as close as the Utes ever got, as their offense went cold. Gonzaga kept drawing fouls and going to the line to extend their lead as well. Pili scored a couple of baskets in the final minute to cap it off, but Gonzaga picked up a 77-66 victory and advanced to the Sweet 16.

It was a heroic effort from Pili in her final collegiate game. She scored 35 points on 12/20 shooting and 4/7 from three. She got seven rebounds as well. McQueen scored 12 and Young scored 11 in solid performances for both.

The Utes finished the 2023-24 season with a 23-11 overall record. They now look ahead to their first season in the Big 12, having won NCAA tournament games in each of the past three seasons.


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About the Contributors
Isaac Dunaway
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
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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