She came. She saw. She conquered.
Queen Alissa Pili of Anchorage enjoyed the ultimate homecoming this weekend as her reign in The Last Fronter extended to include a Great Alaska Shootout title and Most Outstanding Player award.
Pili powered the fourth-ranked Utah Utes to a 117-72 rout of previously unbeaten Eastern Kentucky in the Shootout title game before a crowd of 2,329 at the Alaska Airlines Center.
The 6-foot-2 All-American delivered an epic effort with 28 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocked shots in a performance every bit as good as the numbers.
She dominated early, in the middle and at the end – usually under the rim, where she was automatic. Pili shot 11-of-18 from the field, with all 11 field goals coming inside the paint. She also made all six free throw attempts.
She was a slam dunk decision for top player honors as Pili became just the second Alaskan in the tournament’s 40-year history to be selected Most Outstanding Player, joining former East High star Laura Ingham, who won the award in 2002 with Nevada.
ASRC/ConocoPhillips Great Alaska Shootout
#4 Utah 117, Eastern Kentucky 72
UAB 63, UAA 52
Tori Hollingshead, UAA
Gianna Kneepkens, Utah
Mia Moore, UAB
Ines Vieira, Utah
Antwainette Walker, EKU
Most Outstanding Player
Alissa Pili, Utah
This was Pili’s first time playing in her hometown since 2019 when she led Dimond High to a second straight ASAA Class 4A state title.
To come back four years later and hoist another trophy meant the world to her.
“It’s a blessing and to be able to do it in front of all my people, it makes me happy,” she said. “I’m glad I got to come here and show out for everybody.”
And Alaska showed out for her. Saturday’s game drew 3,711 fans, the largest crowd to watch a women’s basketball game at the Alaska Airlines Center.
They came to see Pili dominate and that’s exactly what she did all weekend as she averaged 23.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.5 blocked shots in the two games.
She credited her teammates for believing in her.
“We trust each other,” Pili said. “Everybody is not out there for themselves. We play together and I think that’s kind of what makes us go.”
Utah had three players surpass 20 points in Pili, Gianna Kneepkens (23) and Ines Vieira (20), and shot 65% from the floor, including 18-of-28 from 3-point range.
One day after the Utes set the tournament single-game record for assists (35), they set the tournament record for 3-pointers (29).
“I think we’re building off last season,” said Pili, referring to the team’s Sweet 16 run. “We got a lot of parts back, so we’re just buying into the program and what coach is trying to do with our program.”
It’s hard to stand out on an all-star squad like Utah (4-1), but Pili is its undisputed leader. She is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year and definitely looked the part Sunday.
Pili put on a clinic in the post against Eastern Kentucky, showcasing her fabulous footwork and marvelous shot making ability.
Eastern Kentucky guard Antwainette Walker pumped in a game-high 29 points and looked to spoil Pili’s party, scoring nine of her team’s first 11 points and converting a layup over Pili to give the Colonels (5-1) of Richmond, Ky., a short-lived 11-10 lead.
On the very next trip down the court, Pili followed her own miss for a putback that put the Utes back in the lead for good.
In the second quarter, Pili cashed in on a pick-and-roll with Kneepkens to give Utah its largest lead at 39-26. Then she utilized her size by setting screens to free up teammates for easy looks, an undervalued aspect of her presence on the court.
She kept the party going in the third quarter, scoring on a variety of post moves like the face-and-fire and up-and-under in addition to a sweet spin move.
The crowd ate up, loving every basket, every blocked shot, basically everything Pili did.
This was her night, her weekend, her moment.
The good times kept going in the fourth quarter. With her team up 40, Pili jumped on a loose ball and from her back dished an assist to Reese Ross for a layup. The crowd went wild.
Midway through the fourth quarter, when the Utah starters were being subbed out, Pili started walking off the court before coach Lynne Roberts stopped her.
The crowd wanted more Pili and she answered the call, like she always has done in Alaska.
She scored on a few more you-can’t-stop-me post shots where the defense was helpless. Too good.
Pili’s last bucket came on a beautiful fake handoff that led to a dribble drive layup and foul. She completed the and-1 play and moments later was taken out as the crowd gave her a standing ovation.
When Pili returned to the locker room after the game, she hugged Roberts in appreciation for making her dream come true.
“Thank you for bringing me home.”
proud to call this HOME❤️ https://t.co/ZO7YSx9BT6
— ap (@alissa_pili) November 19, 2023