Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — In a matter of seconds of game time, the fates changed for No. 10 Utah women's basketball.
As Alissa Pili went to the free-throw line with 0:00.3 left in the game, and her team now trailing 79-78, the USC transfer drained both free-throw attempts to give the Utes an 80-79 win over No. 14 Arizona on Sunday afternoon at the Huntsman Center.
"That was really fun. What a great game," Utah head coach Lynne Roberts said. "Arizona's good and I thought it was just back and forth the whole time. … Just a really hard-fought game by both teams.
"I just love that we didn't panic; we didn't panic."
Seconds earlier, Dasia Young's inbound pass with 8 seconds left in the game went a tad too high over Pili's head and Arizona's Paris Clark broke away to the basket with her team down by 1 point. Clark quickly got a shot off and gave the visiting team an unlikely lead.
With 1.6 seconds left to play, Utah (15-1, 5-1 Pac-12) needed a prayer to avoid the upset after controlling a 3-point lead with 22 seconds left in the game. Roberts called a timeout to advance the ball to midcourt, and the inbounds pass sailed close to the basket among a crowded post of Arizona players. But the ball found its way into Pili's hands, who turned around to make the close bucket.
As Pili went up for the shot, Arizona's Esmery Martinez was whistled for the foul to give Pili the game-winning opportunity at the charity stripe. After a pair of timeouts and the pressure mounting, Pili calmly drained both free throws to seal the Utah victory.
"How cool was she? She didn't even flinch — I don't think anything," Roberts said.
"I stay after practice every day and make 25 in a row, so it was just — I just had to get in my element a little bit, but there's pressure," Pili said. "It's nothing I can't handle. With the game on the line and just how hard we fought the whole game, I just had to make those two."
Pili led all scores with 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting and two rebounds in the win. Though Pili came up the hero at the end, it was Gianna Kneepkens that willed Utah to a lead late in the game.
The two teams traded baskets for much of the final period before Arizona (14-4, 4-3 Pac-12) took a 2-point lead with 1:08 left to play. Kneepkens got the ball at the top of the key and saw an opening. The sophomore drove to the basket and got the layup while drawing a foul by Arizona's Cate Reese, who fouled out on the play. Kneepkens made the following free throw to give Utah a 1-point lead.
Reese was the team's leading scorer (25 points, 10 rebounds) and left a big hole in Arizona's opportunities in the post on both ends of the floor.
On the following possession, Kneepkens got the defensive rebound on an errant 3-point attempt by Arizona's Lauren Fields and quickly sprint up court to escape the Arizona defenders looking to foul while draining the game clock. Kneepkens hit both free throws to give the home team a 3-point lead with 22 seconds left to play.
After working the ball around, Clark drained a jumper to cut Utah's lead to one, and all the home team needed to do was avoid a turnover in the final eight seconds of play.
Kneepkens finished the game with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, seven rebounds, and two assists on a day when the team shot 54% from the field and 41% from 3-point range. Isabel Palmer, who got hurt late in the game but eventually checked in late, finished with 10 points and two rebounds.
Utah built up a game-high 8-point lead in the third quarter, 55-47, but Arizona continued to fight back in a battle between two top-15 teams. In all, the game was tied 14 times and there were 17 lead changes in a back-and-forth Pac-12 battle.