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Preview: Can Alissa Pili stay hot for No. 9 Utah against No. 8 UCLA?

Alissa Pili of the Utah Utes has scored 20-plus four times in a row. The Utes’ next opponent, the UCLA Bruins, just lost a nail-biter to the No. 25 Colorado Buffaloes.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Utah at Stanford
Alissa Pili
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

With the No. 8 UCLA Bruins’ overtime loss to No. 25 Colorado on Friday, the No. 9 Utah Utes are poised to move ahead of them in the rankings and even a Bruin win over the Utes on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET in Salt Lake City might not change that.

Utah of course started 13-0 and has since only lost to Colorado and No. 3 Stanford, so no bad losses for the Utes. UCLA, on the other hand, has a bad loss to Oregon State (“first four out” in ESPN’s Jan. 27 Bracketology) and four losses total, with the same amount of wins as the Utes (17).

For Utah, having the player who is No. 10 in the nation in field goal percentage and the player who is No. 7 in 3-point percentage doesn’t hurt. That would be Alissa Pili (62.2) and Gianna Kneepkens (45.9), respectively.

Pili is one of the best inside scorers in the nation and is currently on her second four-game streak of scoring 20-plus points this season. If she makes it five in a row on Sunday, it will be a season-high streak.

Highlights: Alissa Pili

Pili averages a team-high 20.2 points; Kneepkens is second at 15.1 points per game. The Utes have a solid rebound margin of plus-7.5 and are seventh in the country with 18.4 assists per game, but it’s more by committee in those categories. Nobody on the team averages six or more rebounds (Pili is the leader at 5.6) and nobody averages four or more assists (Inês Vieira is the leader at 3.5). Part of that is because nobody on the team plays a ton of minutes. Kennady McQueen is the leader at 28.6 minutes per game, while Pili is at 25.7 and Vieira is at 19. Ten players average at least 10 minutes.

You likely know the story with the Bruins. Charisma Osborne is their high profile senior leader and ESPN’s projected No. 5 pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft. Kiki Rice is the freshman co-star and the No. 2 Hoop Gurlz recruit in the class of 2022. Osborne averages team highs in both points (16.3) and rebounds (5.8). Rice adds 12 points and 3.3 assists per game. Like with Utah, nobody averages mad rebounds or assists for UCLA; Gina Conti is its leader in assist average (3.7). The team also has 10 players playing at least 10 minutes per game.

Against Colorado, Rice was held to four points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field and turned the ball over seven times. The Bruins lost on a Kindyll Wetta three with two seconds remaining in overtime. With a better performance from Rice, they should be competitive in the Top 10 showdown with the Utes.

UCLA was a No. 4 seed in ESPN’s Jan. 27 Bracketology, which came out before its loss to Colorado. Utah was a No. 3 seed before their Jan. 27 win over USC.

Game information

No. 8 UCLA Bruins (17-4, 6-3 Pac-12) vs. No. 9 Utah Utes (17-2, 7-2 Pac-12)

When: Sunday, Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. ET

Where: Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, UT

How to watch/listen: Pac-12 Networks/Listen (UCLA) or the Varsity Network App (Utah)

Key to the matchup: Utah doing what Utah does. The Ute defense is about as good as the Bruin defense. UCLA has better field goal defense, but not by much, and Utah actually has better 3-point defense; UCLA allows just 1.2 fewer points per game. Rebounding and turnover margins are also similar and even free throw percentages aren’t that far off from each other. That means it could just come down to Utah having the better offense. The Utes score 13.9 more points per game and shoot 9.8 percentage points better from the field. In fact, they are fourth in the nation in scoring offense (85.3 points per game) and third in field goal percentage (49.9).