Alissa Pili

Anchorage’s Alissa Pili on Friday dazzled in her NCAA Tournament debut as she scored a career-high 33 points to highlight Utah’s 103-77 win over Gardner-Webb in Salt Lake City.

Pili also grabbed eight rebounds and dished off a career-high eight assists in an epic effort every bit as good as the numbers.

This is why she transferred to Utah, to have a chance to play in the Big Dance. She waited four years for this moment, and she did not disappoint in her opening act.

Pili’s 33 points are the most scored by an Alaskan at the NCAA Tournament – better than Jeannie Hebert’s 26 for Miami in 1992, Kelsey Griffin’s 26 for Nebraska in 2008, Trajan Langdon’s 25 for Duke in 1999 and Ruthy Hebard’s 24 for Oregon in 2019. That used to be considered the standard for Alaskans.

That was before Pili.

She drained 12-of-17 field goals and 9-of-11 free throws. She made one steal, blocked one shot and did not attempt a 3-point shot.

The 6-foot-2 All-American forward brought her lunch pale and went to work in the post to help the second-seeded Utes create early separation from the No. 15 Big South Conference champs.

She scored 12 of Utah’s first 18 points as the Pac-12 Conference champs built a 27-14 lead after the first quarter. In the second quarter, Pili put Utah on her back by scoring 10 consecutive points as the lead swelled to 49-34 at halftime.

Gardner-Webb ran the table in the Big South and came into the game with 29 wins. The Runnin’ Bulldogs weren’t going down easily and played nationally ranked Utah even in the third quarter (27-27).

The Utes turned to the Pac-12 Player of the Year in the third quarter as Pili accounted for 13 points and three assists, stepping up to help Utah hold off the underdogs.

The fourth quarter was all Utah. Pili drained two free throws to push the lead to 94-69 and give her 33 points, breaking her previous high of 32 points set in 2020.

On Sunday, Pili and the Utes will play No. 10 seed Princeton in the second round in Salt Lake City.

Additional Article Sponsors:
Midas Alaska, RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor, R&M Consultants, Inc., Alaska Oil and Gas Association, BOSCO's, Continental Auto Group, Invisalign-Ben Ward, Kathleen Navarre
School Boosters:
Kathleen Navarre, Jim Hajdukovich, Residential Mortgage, Aspen Endodontics, RE/MAX Dynamic Properties, Kevin Taylor