Since transferring to Utah from USC, Alissa Pili has not played at the Trojans’ Galen Center.

That will change Sunday (1 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network) when the No. 18 Utes play No. 7 USC in Los Angeles.

Pili has been a star for Utah in her two seasons in Salt Lake City. She earned Pac-12 Player of the Year honors last season and is being projected as a high WNBA draft pick this year while leading a Utes squad that’s been ranked all season.

Utah didn’t play at USC last year, though, and while Pili has faced her former team twice at the Huntsman Center — including a 20-point win over the Trojans last month — this will be her first time facing USC at its home arena since she left the school.

Pili admitted returning to the Galen Center may add a little excitement for the matchup.

“Maybe a little, especially now that we’re playing over there at the Galen Center,” she said Wednesday before the team embarked on a two-game Los Angeles road trip. “I haven’t played there since I’ve been here.”

Pili played at USC for three years — that included being named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year her first season — before transferring following the 2021-22 season.

“It will be fun,” Pili said. “I still have some people that I know at USC, so it’ll be cool to see some familiar faces and just be back at where I started.”

Southern California forward Alissa Pili (35) drives against Stanford forward Cameron Brink (22) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022, in Los Angeles. After three seasons, Pili transferred to Utah, where she’s starred the past two years. | Ringo H.W. Chiu, Associated Press

There will be a lot at stake for both teams when Utah and USC match up for the second time this year.

The Utes lost a lopsided contest at No. 12 UCLA on Thursday night and with that loss, Utah is alone in sixth in the Pac-12 standings with three games to play in the regular season.

Utah, at 9-6 in Pac-12 action and 19-8 overall, can still earn a top four seed and a subsequent first-round bye for the league tournament in two weeks, though the Utes have some ground to make it up to accomplish that.

The top six teams in the Pac-12 are separated by three games. At the top is Stanford at 12-3 in league play, followed by USC and Oregon State at 11-4 and UCLA and Colorado at 10-5.

Utes on the air


No. 18 Utah (19-8, 9-6 Pac-12) at No. 7 USC (21-4, 11-4 Pac-12)


Sunday, 1 p.m. MST


Galen Center (Los Angeles)


TV: Pac-12 Network


Radio: 700 AM

Following Sunday’s game, the Utes will wrap up the regular season next week with home games against Washington State (Thursday) and Washington (Saturday), two teams Utah beat on the road earlier this year.

The Trojans, meanwhile, still have an excellent shot at winning at least a piece of the Pac-12 regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

USC will finish up the regular season with games at Arizona — a surprise winner over Stanford on Friday night — and Arizona State next week.

The Trojans are coming into Sunday’s matchup on a conference-best seven-game winning streak after beating No. 11 Colorado on Friday night.

It sets the stage for an important contest at the Galen Center.

“Everything that we’ve talked about all season long is still in front of us,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said before the team left for its road trip.

“This season hasn’t been as smooth or maybe as easy as we thought it might be, but that’s sports. That’s life and we’re handling it and I’m proud of the team for how they just hung in there and just keep swinging, chopping the axe.”

The Utes will get their second look at Trojans freshman phenom JuJu Watkins, who scored 42 points in USC’s win over the Buffaloes.

Watkins scored 26 against Utah in Salt Lake City on Jan. 19, but Pili tied her career-high with 37 in leading the Utes to a 78-58 victory.

“Obviously JuJu Watkins is one of the best players in the nation. Just seeing her that first time, it kind of taught us, ‘OK, like this is the player she is, this how we defend her.’ It gives us confidence going into Sunday,” said Utah forward Jenna Johnson, one of the Utes’ top interior defenders.

Pili stressed the Utes need to keep playing together, a mantra that’s gotten them through a season that’s been more difficult than expected, in large part thanks to injuries, including the season-ending one for Gianna Kneepkens.

“I think we’ve just got to take it a game at a time and continue to play with just togetherness and continue to trust each other and just play hard because these teams are going up against, they play hard and that’s what it comes down to sometimes in these games,” Pili said.

“We’ve just got to make sure we give it everything we got and don’t leave anything out on the court.”