Transfer Alissa Pili leading way as No. 8 Utah starts 14-0

Jan 4, 2023, 11:33 PM | Updated: Jan 5, 2023, 1:34 pm
FILE - Utah forward Alissa Pili (35) celebrates a basket during an NCAA basketball game against Okl...

FILE - Utah forward Alissa Pili (35) celebrates a basket during an NCAA basketball game against Oklahoma on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Leading scorer Alissa Pili has No. 8 Utah off to a 14-0 start and the program's highest ranking in school history. (AP Photo/Tyler Tate, File)

(AP Photo/Tyler Tate, File)

Utah’s Alissa Pili may be an undersized post player at 6-foot-2. Just don’t tell her that.

The scouting report on Pili: A physical presence down low (she attributes that to being an offensive/defensive lineman in football). Difficult to box out (a quality from her wrestling days). Quick reflexes (thanks, volleyball). Talented singer, too (“If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys is her go-to jam ).

Pili is the leading scorer and rebounder for an eighth-ranked Utah team that’s not only off to a 14-0 start, but also just climbed to the highest AP ranking in program history. The versatile forward who transferred from Southern California this season has seamlessly meshed with the Utes. She was recently named to the midseason top 25 watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, which recognizes the outstanding player in college basketball.

“We just look to improve every practice and every game and I think we’re doing a good job at that,” said Pili, whose team is 3-0 in Pac-12 play heading into Friday’s game at Colorado (12-3, 2-1). “Obviously, we have really skilled players, so that helps, too.”

A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Pili is the second of nine kids. She grew up playing pretty much every sport imaginable, but football was her first love. She was on teams with her older brother, Brandon, who suited up for Southern Cal in the Cotton Bowl. Pili was in the stands with her family to watch his final game ( a 46-45 loss to Tulane ).

“You’re never bored,” Pili cracked about her family. “We support each other like crazy. My siblings and my parents were always at my games.”

There were plenty of them, too.

Her dad wanted her to be a well-rounded athlete. That’s why she participated in a little bit of everything. Years of football — on both sides of the ball — helped build strength. Years of wrestling helped with endurance and strength. Volleyball increased her reaction time. The shot put and discus amassed more strength.

It all set her up for success on the basketball court, where she became a three-time Alaska Gatorade player of the year at Dimond High School and earned the “Pride of Alaska” award from the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.

Initially, Pili followed the route of her brother to Southern California, where she blossomed into the Pac-12 freshman of the year in 2019-20. A hard-to-heal sprained ankle hampered her sophomore campaign, and after last season — averaging 7.8 points — she decided she needed a change of scenery.

“When I entered the transfer portal, I was really deliberate about the things I was looking for in a school,” said Pili, who has a tattoo down her right leg that’s a representation of her Polynesian culture. “Utah’s style of play — it played a big part.”

So did this: Utah coach Lynne Roberts’ familiarity with Pili’s game. When with the Trojans, Pili had a 29-point performance against the Utes on Feb. 28, 2020.

“There was a good foundation and good culture,” Pili said of her move to Utah. “It was a pretty smooth transition fitting in.”

Pili scored 27 points in her Utah debut on Nov. 7 against Idaho. She also had a streak in December where she scored 25 or more in three straight games, something a Utes player hadn’t accomplished since Kalee Whipple in 2009-10.

Currently, Pili is shooting 63.7% from the floor, including 12 of 30 from 3-point range, and averaging 19.7 points (6.1 rebounds). She has plenty of scoring help, too, with Gianna Kneepkens (14.1 points), Jenna Johnson (11.6) and Kennady McQueen (11.0).

“Everybody knows how good Gianna is, and how good Kennady is, and Jenna, in terms how they can shoot and put the ball on the floor,” Roberts said after an 85-58 win over Colorado on Dec. 14. “Everybody’s keying on them and it’s opening up the key. It’s nice to have somebody (Pili) who’s pretty automatic.”

Pili’s plan is to play one more year at Utah before hopefully embarking on a career in the WNBA.

But that’s a conversation for another time. Her focus is simply on the Utes keeping this run going. Their best start to the season was 16-0 in 1997-98 when Utah was a member of the Western Athletic Conference.

“We’re all pretty level-headed and everybody’s humble on this team,” Pili said. “I don’t think the rankings have any effect on how everybody acts or plays. It’s just motivation to stay on top.”

___

AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes speaks during an NFL football Super Bowl media avail...
Associated Press

Super Bowl has rare matchup of top 2 regular-season teams

This year’s Super Bowl features a rare matchup of the NFL’s top two teams from the regular season. The Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs were the league’s only 14-game winners, marking just the sixth time since the 1970 merger that the squads with sole possession of the two best records in the regular season […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2020, file photo, the Olympic rings are reinstalled after it was taken down ...
Associated Press

Tokyo Olympic official, 3 others held in bid-rigging probe

TOKYO (AP) — A senior official with the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee and three company executives were arrested Wednesday in an ongoing bid-rigging scandal related to the Games. Yasuo Mori, the Olympic official, was arrested along with Koji Henmi, who headed the sports division at Japanese advertising giant Dentsu. Two other business executives were also […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James appears to tear up after passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to bec...
Associated Press

LeBron sets NBA career scoring mark in Lakers’ loss to OKC

LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James became the NBA’s career scoring leader on a step-back jumper late in the third quarter, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record during his 38-point performance in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 133-130 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. James surpassed the mark held since April 1984 by Abdul-Jabbar, who […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James tosses powder in the air prior to the team's NBA basketball...
Associated Press

AP PHOTOS: LeBron James’ run to the NBA scoring record

Associated Press photographers have captured LeBron James for the entirety of his 20-year career, starting from when he was an 18-year-old rookie to now as a 38-year-old who just became the most prolific scorer in NBA history. That covers both his stints in Cleveland, his two championships in Miami, the third title when he returned […]
1 day ago
DELETES REFERENCE TO SHOT SETTING THE SCORING RECORD - Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, lef...
Associated Press

Reaction to LeBron becoming the NBA’s career scoring leader

Reaction from social media and elsewhere poured in after LeBron James passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. ___ “Congratulations to LeBron on breaking one of the most hallowed records in all of sports by becoming the NBA’s all-time scoring leader. It’s a towering achievement that speaks to his sustained excellence over […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, poses with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after passing Abdul-J...
Associated Press

Scoring King: James passes Abdul-Jabbar for NBA points mark

LeBron James got the first official statistic of his NBA career on a rebound. His next entry on the stat sheet was an assist. Even then, points weren’t the priority. They never were. Somehow, he became the most prolific scorer in NBA history anyway. It finally happened Tuesday night, the kid from Akron, Ohio, connecting […]
1 day ago
Transfer Alissa Pili leading way as No. 8 Utah starts 14-0