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BASKETBALL

Alissa Pili plays with trademark confidence and physicality; hits 3 for first WNBA points

by | May 18, 2024 | Basketball, Cover Story

The first time she touched the basketball Friday it was clear this would be a different version of the Alissa Pili we saw on opening night.

After looking timid in her pro debut three days ago, the WNBA rookie from Anchorage rekindled her trademark confidence and physicality. She put the ball on the floor, moved with purpose and scored from the perimeter to the post for her first career points.

It was a big improvement for the first-round draft pick for the Minnesota Lynx as Pili played 10 minutes and furnished five points and two rebounds in a 102-93 double-OT win over Seattle in Minneapolis.

She didn’t play in either overtime because the coach stuck with her starters, but Pili did get most of her minutes in the third quarter and stayed on the court for the start of the fourth.

Even though she didn’t score in the first half she was active and her spacing on the court was much better. She was also more forceful, like early in the second quarter when she got the ball at the top of the key and went to work.

Pili used a pump fake to set up her dribble drive, taking the ball to the post with a defender on her hip before finding Diamond Miller for a 3-pointer and a 25-16 Lynx lead. Pili was pressured and looked trapped when she picked up dribble under the basket. But rather than forcing a shot, she jumped out of bounds and threw a skip pass to Miller for a nice dime. Pili was initially awarded an assist before it was later wiped away.

Moments later, she was whistled for an offensive foul. Turnovers are never good, but this was a case of her being aggressive and that was a good sign. Coaches can live with that.

Pili carried that confidence into the second half and midway through the third quarter canned a corner 3 for her first career points in the WNBA.

“I was sitting in the corner ready, ready to shoot,” Pili said. “I didn’t know if she saw me or not, but she made a good little fake to the person on the wing and then threw a crazy pass across the whole court.

“I’ve been nervous in these games so I was just trying to let that go in that moment. I was just playing. I wasn’t thinking too much, so I think that’s probably the difference in why it went in.”

A few minutes later, she cut to the basket and converted a tough layup through contact to give the Lynx a 60-52 lead. The crowd of 7,208 went wild, but Pili showed no emotion. No smile. All business.

By the end of the third quarter, Pili looked comfortable with the ball. And she stayed aggressive, even though it resulted in her second offensive foul after a bang-bang play along the baseline.

“That’s a tough call for the rookie,” the WNBA broadcaster said. “You love the aggression.”

As they showed the slow-motion replay on TV, Pili’s power was personified; the Seattle defender bounced off her and fell to the ground while she continued her move and made a tough leaner.

“Oh yeah, she’s got strength in those shoulders and those arms,” the broadcaster said. “I like it. Set the tone early for the rookie.”

Pili is undersized in the WNBA and will need to rely on her physicality and fabulous footwork more than ever. Even though she is listed at 6-foot-2, Pili was introduced as a 5-foot-11 rookie during player introductions.

It puts things in perspective when Pili is asked to defend Seattle’s 6-foot-6 center Mercedes Russell, who unsuccessfully challenged Pili’s power in Tuesday’s season opener. When faced with the same situation Friday, Russell used her height advantage to shoot over Pili from the free-throw line.

That’s life in the pros.

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