No. 1 South Carolina pushes past Utah as Alissa Pili’s 37 points not enough

Pili notched a career high, but didn’t have enough help to spring an upset at the Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase.

Utah forward Alissa Pili (35) shoots as South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso (10) defends in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley all but gave up trying to guard Alissa Pili by the time the fourth quarter hit.

She had thrown at least four different defenders on her and several coverages. But nothing worked as Pili powered her way inside and popped out for 3-pointers while scoring a career-high 37 points.

“We got to just try to outscore her, because we cannot stop her,” Staley said on the ESPN broadcast after the third quarter.

The problem for Utah: While South Carolina didn’t have an answer for Pili, it did for just about everyone else.

It allowed the No. 1 team in the country to edge past the 11th-ranked Utes, 78-69, at the Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase on Sunday in Uncasville, Conn. Utah didn’t have enough around Pili to keep up.

South Carolina had four players in double figures, led by Kamilla Cardoso’s 17 points. Utah had only one other player with more than 10. Dasia Young, in her second start in place of the injured Gianna Kneepkens, had 12 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes.

Utah was held to 25% 3-point shooting (just like against Baylor last month). A team that averages 14 made 3s had to resort to scoring 46 points in the paint.

Despite the uneven contributions, head coach Lynne Roberts’ group put pressure on South Carolina. It was a one-possession game until the final 2:30 in the fourth.

South Carolina pulled away, going on a 9-2 run to finish the game. Utah did not score a field goal in the last 2:53.

But Roberts’ starters cut into the South Carolina lead multiple times. After getting down 11 in the first quarter, the starting group put together a run.

The Utes cut the lead down to two points midway through the second quarter thanks to Pili scoring 16 straight points. But Pili picked up her third foul and had to sit the final 4:44 of the half. South Carolina worked the lead back to seven.

A similar situation happened in the third. Roberts went with her starting group to make a seven-point push to get it down to a one-possession game. But it couldn’t sustain it as South Carolina flirted with a 10-point advantage by the final minute of the quarter.

Young and Pili were the only two Utah players to have a positive plus-minus when they were on the court.

Utah’s main playmakers, outside of Pili, were largely contained. Guard Kennady McQueen had six points on 3-of-11 shooting. Jenna Johnson, while she defended well on Cardoso, had seven points.

Maty Wilke and Reese Ross were scoreless.