The No. 11 Utah women’s basketball team had its chances to ride a career day from Alissa Pili to a stunning upset of No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday.

The Gamecocks (9-0), though, made the plays down the stretch to beat the Utes 78-69 during the second game of a tripleheader at the 2023 Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

“I’m really proud of our fight. There’s no doubt in all of our minds that we’re going to show up and we’re going to compete and they did exactly that,” Utah associate head coach Gavin Petersen said on the ESPN 700 postgame show.

“If a couple shots here and there fell, it might have been a different outcome. We’re walking out of here extremely proud of our effort knowing that there’s things we need to continue to work on.”

Key sequence

Utah pulled within 69-67 on a Dasia Young layup with 2:53 to play, a little over 30 seconds after Pili used a spin move and banked in a jumper to set her new career high in points.

That was the fourth time in the second half that the Utes pulled within two against the nation’s top-ranked team.

South Carolina quickly re-established a two-possession lead, though, when Bree Hall scored and was fouled by Young. With the free throws, the Gamecocks were up 72-67.

Young’s layup ended up being the Utes’ final made field goal, as they went 0-for-5 in the game’s final two and a half minutes.

The Gamecocks, meanwhile, hit their final three shot attempts and added a pair of free throws in addition to Hall’s to finish the game on a 9-2 run.

“We are all extremely proud of our women’s basketball program on this stage. Like we just told our kids in the locker room, this is just a preview of what we want in March,” Petersen said. “Keep working, let this motivate you and we’ll all get back to work.”

The biggest factor

Pili was, in a word, brilliant against the Gamecocks, who had a significant size advantage over Utah.

The Utes’ star forward ended up with a career-high 37 points. She shot 15 of 23 from the field and made a team-high three 3-pointers while making all four of her free-throw attempts.

Pili also had three steals, two rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot.

“If I’m a WNBA GM, there’s no doubt in my mind that kid can play in the WNBA,” Petersen said. “She’s a winner, she’s an assassin in between the lines and she’s a great teammate.”

Pili kept the Utes within striking distance in the second quarter, after South Carolina built an 11-point lead through one quarter.

During the second period, Pili scored 14 straight for Utah at one point before foul trouble forced her to the bench (she picked up her third foul with 4:44 until halftime).

Pili had 21 first-half points.

“I’d much rather get the win and have Pili score 37 on us, then her score 37 with the win,” South Carolina Dawn Staley said, according to The Associated Press.

“Now, that’s a little bit hard to swallow. But, utmost respect for Pili. I mean, Utah, I hope we don’t see them in the tournament and whoever does get to see them, good luck to you.”

Other key takeaways

Other stars of the game: Young, who was making her second start in replacing the injured Gianna Kneepkens, scored a season-high 12 points and had six rebounds and an assist as the only other Ute in double-figures.

Center Kamilla Cardoso scored 17 points to lead the South Carolina offense while adding six rebounds, two blocks and an assist. Te-Hina Paopao added 15 points (including three 3-pointers) along with three steals, three rebounds and two assists.

Rebounding: The taller Gamecocks held a 37-28 rebounding edge, including 9-8 on the offensive glass. Despite the close number in offensive rebounds, though, South Carolina had a significant 17-6 edge in second-chance points.

Shooting: South Carolina shot 55% from the field, while Utah, which entered the game as the nation’s top-scoring team, shot 45%. The Utes made just 5 of 20 3-pointers, though, season lows both in attempts and makes, while the Gamecocks made 6 of 16 3-pointers.

Turnovers: Both teams were careless with the ball — South Carolina had 23 turnovers, the Utes 17. The Gamecocks had an 18-11 edge in points off turnovers.

Foul troubles: There were 41 fouls called in the game, 19 on South Carolina and 22 on Utah. That led to several players on both sides getting into foul trouble.

While Utes forward Jenna Johnson drew five offensive fouls on defense, she fouled out in the final minute. Young and freshman Reese Ross each had four fouls, while Pili finished with three.

Cardoso had four fouls for South Carolina, while post players Ashlyn Watkins and Sania Feagin each were called for three.

Looking for more from the guard line: In the second game without Kneepkens after she suffered a season-ending injury, the Utes struggled to get consistent production out of their guard lineup.

Inês Vieira again had a solid day facilitating the Utah offense, finishing with seven assists, five steals and six rebounds — and only two turnovers — though she scored just five points on 2 of 9 shooting.

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Kennady McQueen had six points but was 0 of 5 from 3-point range and 3 of 11 overall, while Maty Wilke didn’t score off the bench and had three turnovers. Lani White didn’t record a stat in three minutes of play.

“As coaches, we’ve got to figure it out and we’re still figuring it out,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said, per The Associated Press. “We haven’t had much time and to play against a team like South Carolina, who is so good defensively, that’s hard.”

What’s next?

The Utes (8-2) will play the final road game of their nonconference schedule at Southern Utah next Saturday (5 p.m. MST, ESPN+).

Utah will then play its final nonleague game against other in-state opponent, Weber State, on Dec. 21 (noon) at the Huntsman Center before opening Pac-12 play at Colorado on Dec. 30 (1 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

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