No. 2 Seed Utah Rolls Past Gardner-Webb in NCAA Tournament
The No. 2 seeded University of Utah women’s basketball team faced the No. 15 seeded Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs on Friday night at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
The matchup proved to be exactly what a 2 versus 15 matchup should be, as the Utes took care of business early and gave their key players valuable time to rest. They rolled over the Bulldogs 103-77, becoming the only women’s or men’s team to surpass 100 points in the 2023 first round. The win snapped Gardner-Webb’s 21 game winning streak.
Here are the takeaways:
Pili is ready for the March stage
Utah’s all-everything junior has been quite a challenge for any defense she's faced, and Friday was no different. She had her way in the paint against an overmatched Bulldogs squad who couldn’t stop her from scoring.
“Posting up hard whenever I had the opportunity. It’s mostly my teammates just finding me, hitting me when I’m in those one-on-one situations,” said Pili. “I let the game come to me and took advantage of those situations.”
Pili had 18 points at halftime and finished the night with a career-high of 33 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists - just shy of a triple-double. She was subbed out with 4:35 left to play in the fourth period in order to save her legs with the game well in hand.
Offense was clicking from start to finish
Utah quickly jumped out to a 10-4 lead as the Bulldogs had no answers defensively. The Utes took advantage of their size and length by relentlessly attacking the basket. Utah never trailed throughout the game. Pili wasn’t the only Ute with a dominating performance, as Jenna Johnson added another 20 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists.
“I feel like we have so many weapons offensively. I think if the defense takes away one we have another one,” Johnson said. “We were getting a lot of points down low early so when they would collapse around us we could go outside and hit three’s. That’s really, really hard to guard, and we’ll take whatever the defense gives us.”
In the second period, Utah would go on a 14-0 run to give themselves a comfortable 32-14 lead with 8:36 left to play. Utah would continue to dominate as the Bulldogs started getting into foul trouble. The Utes finished the night shooting 59 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. They also outscored the Bulldogs 60-26 in the paint.
Utah coach Lynne Roberts praised the team for their team effort.
“The statistic that stands out to me is we had 33 assists on 37 made baskets,” said Roberts. “That’s pretty remarkable and that’s a sign of an unselfish team.”
Utah’s defense shut down the Bulldogs
Utah forced the Bulldogs to rely on their perimeter shooting as they shutdown the lanes to the basket. The Bulldogs would cut the lead 58-50 on a 3-pointer by Ki’Ari Cain in the third quarter, but Utah answered right back and extended their lead back to double-digits.
Utah limited the Bulldogs to 41 percent from the field and forced 14 turnovers, Utah also outrebounded Gardner Webb 44-30. Jhessicyka Williams led the Bulldogs with 20 points and five rebounds, Ki’Ari Cain added 14 points, six assists and hit 2-4 on 3-pointers.
The No. 2 seed Utes have advanced to the second round and will face the No. 10 seed Princeton Tigers at 5 pm on Sunday in the Huntsman Center. The Tigers upset No. 7 seed, NC State in their first round matchup. The winner will advance to the Sweet 16.