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How No. 16 Utah defined grit and ‘total team win’ in knocking off No. 2 UCLA

The Utes matched every counter from the Bruins before winning in the extra session

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The Utah Utes celebrate a win against the UCLA Bruins at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Jan. 22, 2024.

The Utah Utes celebrate a win against the UCLA Bruins at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Jan. 22, 2024.

Marielle Scott, Deseret News

Don’t call it an upset.

Instead, call it the Utah Utes untapping the potential they have known has been there all along.

On Monday night, No. 16 Utah entertained No. 2 UCLA at the Huntsman Center in front of a raucous, red-clad crowd, just three nights after beating then-No. 6 USC by 20.

Somehow, the Utes topped that performance — and it was because Lynne Roberts’ squad lived up to the term “total team effort” in winning their third straight game.

“Everyone stepped up tonight and it was awesome to see. I mean, that’s a team full of firepower, and you got to see that tonight. I was so proud to see everyone step up and fulfill their role and succeed. It was awesome.” — Utah guard Kennady McQueen

Utah set the tone early, and even though UCLA fought back time and again before capturing the lead in the final minute of regulation, the Utes had already established they would match the Bruins grit for grit.

The final result? A 94-81 Utes win.

“I’m so incredibly proud of my team’s grit,” Roberts said. “For (UCLA) to take the lead there with a minute, whatever it was in the fourth, it would have been easy to just kind of fold.

“But you know, the execution at the end, Ines (Vieira) made a great shot, great read, and then in overtime, I thought we were the aggressor and we knocked down our free throws, did a great job defensively.”

The Bruins tried to take away the scoring opportunities for Utah star forward Alissa Pili. That plan worked for a while.

Utah adjusted, though, and found their scoring in other ways, from stalwarts like Kennady McQueen, Maty Wilke and Dasia Young.

“I think everyone knows how good Alissa is, and of course she’s going to be a focus for the opposing team,” said McQueen, who toughed her way to a team-high 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists. “So with that, we just know we have to be ready to step up and make those reads when nights like tonight happen.

“... Everyone stepped up tonight and it was awesome to see. I mean, that’s a team full of firepower, and you got to see that tonight. I was so proud to see everyone step up and fulfill their role and succeed. It was awesome.”

UCLA rallied with a 7-0 run after falling behind by six with 2:39 left in regulation, taking a rare one-point lead over Utah in the final minute after Camryn Brown scored in transition off a Utes turnover. 

Utah found a way to extend the game — Vieira’s driving layup coming out of a timeout tied the contest at 72-72 with a second left in the fourth quarter, forcing overtime.

“That wasn’t even the play and she just made her read and it was perfect,” McQueen said of Vieira’s clutch layup.

In overtime, the Utes simply took over.

Vieira hit her only 3-pointer of the game to give Utah a 77-74 lead, and on a night where the Utes led for more than 39 minutes, they never trailed — or were tied — again.

Utah WBB-UCLA ket takeaways

Key takeaways

Key moments in OT: Ines Vieira hit her first 3 of the night to give Utah a 77-74 edge.

Alissa Pili made a layup with 2:21 to play, then hit two free throws just 20 seconds later to make it 83-76.

Then Kennady McQueen scored on a driving layup to put Utah up 86-78 going into the final minute, and the Utes wrapped up the win at the free-throw line.

How it got to overtime: The Bruins, who trailed most of the night, used a 7-0 run to take the lead at 71-70 on Camryn Brown’s transition score with just under a minute left in regulation.

Eventually, after two empty Utah possessions, one empty UCLA possession and the Bruins making 1 of 2 free throws, Utah had 4.2 seconds left for a final shot.

That final play ended up Vieira’s hands, and she drove to the hoop for a game-tying layup, sending the contest to overtime.

Top performers: McQueen (21 points, nine rebounds, four assists), Dasia Young (16 points, seven rebounds), Pili (16 points, six rebounds, two steals) and Maty Wilke (16 points, two assists) all starred for Utah in the victory.

Gabriela Jaquez scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds and two steals to pace the Bruins.

0: Pili didn’t score in the first quarter, or even attempt a shot. Utah’s star forward, though, made her presence felt as the night wore on.

39:34: Even with the final-minute theatrics in regulation, Utah led for most of the night, taking control early and setting a tone against the second-ranked Bruins.

Pili, who stuck with it and eventually scored 16 points and added six rebounds and two steals, made a layup with 2:21 left in the extra session. She followed that up with two free throws 20 seconds later to push the lead to 83-76.

After a layup from UCLA’s Gabriela Jaquez and a free throw from Vieira, McQueen hit a driving layup that made it 86-78 heading into the final minute.

“Kennady attacked with some tenacity tonight,” Roberts said.

From there, the Utes (14-5, 4-3 Pac-12) wrapped up the historic win from the free-throw line — they made 15 of 16 free throws in overtime, and 23 of 24 in the game.

“That’s a testament, again, to the toughness, the mental toughness,” Roberts said.

It was historic because it is the highest-ranked team Utah has ever beaten in program history.

In the postgame press conference, the term team win became a running theme.

“I just love how everyone on our team, we want to win,” Wilke said. “No one is for themselves.

“... The games in the past we dropped, I think knowing we were so close gave us confidence. Yeah, it gave us a chip on our shoulder that we can compete with these teams and that if we just come together and play our roles and do our job, we can be really good and we showed that today.”

Roberts praised the effort from the visitors as well, who lost for just the second time this season and were coming off a thrilling road win at No. 3 Colorado.

“I have so much respect for UCLA,” she said. “They’re well-coached and they run such a great program.”

In addition to McQueen and Pili, Wilke (16 points), Young (16) and Vieira (12) also scored in double-figures.

Wilke and Young both hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter to help Utah establish control early, and the Utes ended up making 13 of 28 3-pointers on the night.

Wilke and Young both made four 3s on the night, while McQueen added three, often at key times to quell UCLA rallies.

The Bruins (15-2, 4-2 Pac-12), meanwhile, hit just 5 of 18 3-pointers. 

Utah’s defense made it tough work for UCLA across the board. While Jaquez led the Bruins with 21 points and six rebounds to pace four UCLA players in double-figures, the Utes largely held the Bruins’ top scorer, 6-foot-7 Lauren Betts, in check. 

Betts finished with seven points, but also five turnovers as players such as Young, Pili and Jenna Johnson often frustrated her in the post. 

Perhaps it was fitting this thriller occurred on a national stage — ESPN2 broadcasted the matchup of two premier women’s basketball programs.

Utah’s coach, always one to show appreciation for the attention her program receives, thanked the crowd for their impact.

“What a great atmosphere,” Roberts said. “That crowd has made such a difference for us.”

By the end of the night, Roberts and her team, who less than two weeks ago were reeling a bit after losing three of four games to start Pac-12 play, were effusive in their confidence that this team has what it takes to endure and succeed.

“I have so much confidence in our team and so much respect for UCLA and USC,” Roberts said. “It’s not like they’re overranked, but I believe in our group, too, and I believe that we can beat anybody we play if we play like that.”

What’s next?

After a four-game home stand, Utah will hit the road for the next two weeks.

First up is a two-game set that will take the Utes to Oregon on Friday (8 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network) and No. 25 Oregon State on Sunday (1 p.m., Pac-12 Network).