Pili helps Utah advance to Sweet 16 with win over Princeton
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Alissa Pili had 28 points and 10 rebounds to lead second-seeded Utah to a 63-56 win over 10th-seeded Princeton 63-56 on Sunday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Jenna Johnson added 15 points for the Utes, who made only one 3-pointer but still advanced to their first Sweet 16 since 2006.
Kaitlyn Chen scored 19 points, Grace Stone had 16 and Ellie Mitchell finished with 18 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive end, for Princeton (24-6).
Down the stretch, the game turned into an old-fashioned rockfight. The teams combined to miss 15 consecutive field goal attempts at one point, but Utah (27-4) got to the free throw line to advance and face No. 3 seed LSU.
The host Utes didn’t score a field goal in the final 6:24 but went 13-for-19 from the line in the fourth quarter to complete their season undefeated at the Huntsman Center.
After the game, Utah coach Lynne Roberts was surrounded by her team and did a short rendition of The Griddy to the delight of the partisan crowd of 8,663.
Pili is known for her power but she showed her remarkable agility and marksmanship as well. After she had made a 3 in the second quarter, she drove past two defenders, took a knee to the thigh and threw in a shot while falling to the floor for a three-point play.
The matchup highlighted a contrast in strengths. Utah’s No. 4-ranked offense (84.1 points per game) was pitted against Princeton’s sixth-ranked defense (52.8 ppg).
The Tigers, who had won 16 in a row, forced the game to their style but just couldn’t find enough offense, shooting just 27.8%. Princeton has never advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament but lost in close games the past two seasons.
After a 2-for-14 stretch for Princeton, Chen made two jumpers in a 7-0 run to cut Utah’s lead to 44-42 late in the third quarter. In the first half, the Tigers’ swarming defense created 13 turnovers, five by Pili, to keep them within striking distance.
Pili had 17 points at the break to help Utah to a 32-26 lead after Utah lost a 3-pointer that was ruled to come after the shot clock elapsed.
Utah’s physicality inside was evident early as Pili and Johnson combined to go 6-for-6 in the first quarter and the Utes jumped to a 20-10 early lead. The Tigers went 5:26 without a field goal, but they relied on the defense to settle in as they have all season.
Princeton: To win, the Tigers figured they’d need to slow the game and swarm the Utes. Princeton caused 20 turnovers but those miscues only led to 18 points on the other end.
Utah: Pili and Johnson were powerhouses in the paint as Utah outscored Princeton 32-18 and that was enough to make up for the Utes’ lack of outside shooting. Utah made three fewer field goals but won on the strength of 28 of 37 from the line, while the Tigers were just 11-for-15.