TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Gianna Kneepkens scored 22 points and Jenna Johnson added 15 to push No. 4 Utah to a 74-69 Pac-12 victory over stubborn Arizona State on Sunday afternoon.
The Utes (23-3, 13-3), who had a seven-game winning streak stopped at No. 18 Arizona on Friday, struggled to put away Arizona State without post player Alissa Pili.
Pili, the Pac-12’s leading scorer at 20.7 points per game, did not play after suffering a right ankle sprain in the final minutes of the loss at Arizona. It was the first game she has missed.
“It was one of those games that was just hard,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “We kind of had to do it by committee. It wasn’t a pretty game. It wasn’t our best game. Coming off that game Friday … we wanted that badly, and we were a little flat coming out of the gates. But we found way.”
Sydney Erikstrup had 15 points, Treasure Hunt had 13 and Kayla Mokwuah had 11 for the Sun Devils (7-18, 0-16), who lost their 16th straight game despite leading most of the way.
The Utes did not get their first lead until Kneepkens’ 3-pointer made it 29-27 with 2:19 remaining in the first half and did not lead for good until Kneepkens made two free throws to break a tie at 65 with 1:29 left. She had eight points in the final 6:38.
“In the Pac-12, the best conference in the country, you always have to be ready,” Kneepkens said. “Any team can beat anybody any night of the week. It makes it a lot of fun. Obviously (Pili) brings a lot. Scoring. Rebounding. Just her presence on the inside. We just all had to buy in to giving more, score a little more and get a couple more rebounds.”
Johnson made two free throws with 40.8 seconds left for a 69-65 lead and Kennady McQueen and Ines Vieira made three fouls shots to complete a late 7-0 run.
Utah shot 44.2% and made 6 of 21 3-point attempts. They ranked fifth in NCAA Division I in both scoring at 84.2 points per game and in field goal percentage (49.0) coming in.
“To win without shooting the three well, to win without Alissa Pili, I’ll take it,” Roberts said.
Erikstrup’s third 3-pointer gave Arizona State a 59-57 lead with 6:58 left, and Hunt’s layup with 1:51 remaining tied it at 65 before Kneepkens was fouled on a drive to the basket and made both foul shots. The Sun Devils missed their next four field goal attempts while Utah extended its lead at the foul line.
“We’re fighters,” Arizona State coach Natasha Adair said. “We will not hang our head. We do not talk about circumstances.”
ALISSA PILI UPDATE
Pili was ruled out of the game after receiving extensive treatment Saturday, but she said she expects to be ready for the final regular season series next weekend. The Pac-12 tournament begins March 1.
“I just woke up not feeling so well so I decided to take a rest and get ready for next week and the tournament,” Pili said. Roberts was not as upbeat about Pili’s availability this weekend. “We’ll do our best to try to make it happen, but it might not,” she said.
Utah won the first scheduled game between the two this season by forfeit, when injuries and illness forced the Sun Devils to cancel the Feb. 3 meeting in Salt Lake City.
Utah: The Utes assured themselves of a top-four league finish and a first-round bye in the Pac-12 postseason tournament with the victory, another program first for a team that has achieved its highest national ranking. They remain in the running for a host site in the NCAA regionals and will finish the regular-season at home against No. 3 Stanford next Saturday.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils have had injury and illness issues during a difficult season, but they have persevered. They led late into the third quarter against Utah, which was their fifth AP Top 25 opponent in the last six games.
Utah: Hosts California on Thursday.
Arizona State: At Oregon State on Thursday.
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