A week ago, ESPN released its women’s college basketball player rankings and Anchorage’s Alissa Pili was ranked No. 9.
You could argue the returning NCAA First Team All-American and reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year should be higher, but players let their game speak for them and this year Pili’s statement performance has told us she’s a national player-of-the-year candidate.
The 6-foot-2 senior power forward out of Dimond High returns to her hometown this weekend playing the best basketball of her life as she headlines a fourth-ranked Utah team in town for the Great Alaska Shootout, a two-day tournament featuring UAA, Eastern Kentucky and Alabama-Birmingham that starts Saturday at the Alaska Airlines Center.
Pili is one of the most versatile scorers in the country, a post-to-perimeter playmaker shooting 82% from the field, 57% from 3-point range and 70% from the line.
She’s as good as it gets with her unique combination of strength, skill and finesse; a bucket waiting to happen.
Good luck trying to stop Pili one-on-one.
Ask 21st-ranked Baylor how that worked out. Pili pumped in 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting in the second half and put on a clinic in the post in the top-25 matchup Tuesday in Texas.
ASRC/ConocoPhillips Great Alaska Shootout
At Alaska Airlines Center
5:15pm EKU (4-0) vs UAB (2-0)
7:30pm #4 Utah (2-1) vs UAA (2-1)
5:15pm Third Place
Last season she led the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage (.590) and in scoring (20.7). Her numbers are better this year.
Pili ranks second nationally in FG% at .827 on 24-of-29 shooting, sitting just behind Arizona’s Breya Cunningham (20-of-24, .833). Pili is also a top-20 scorer at 22 points per game and has piled up 1,504 for her career – ninth all-time among Alaskans.
Utah’s also boasts All-American candidate Gianna Kneepkens, a 6-foot junior from Duluth, Minn., who comes to Alaska averaging 17.3 points and 6.7 rebounds.
Kneepkens, a returning Pac-12 First Team pick alongside Pili, is already knocking on the door of the 1,000-point club with 932 in 68 career games and highs of 29 and 28 points. Last season she was a finalist for the Cheryl Miller Award, given to the NCAA’s top small forward.
Together, Pili and Kneepkens have won 29 of 35 games and make up one of the best 1-2 punches in the NCAA.
Utah will open the Shootout against the host Seawolves, who have a reputation for playing the role of giant killer. UAA has won 40 Shootout games over NCAA Division I competition since the tournament’s inception in 1980, and claimed the title in 1990, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2017 and 2022.
The Seawolves last faced the nation’s fourth-ranked team at the Shootout in 1986 when they lost 98-78 to Western Kentucky and All-American Lillie Mason.
Thirty-seven years later, UAA will square off against another All-American in Pili, who scored 40 points the last time she laced ’em up at the Alaska Airlines Center.
Last year, UAA beat La Salle 88-75 in the title game and returned three players from that team, including reigning Shootout Most Outstanding Player Vishe’ Rabb. Unfortunately, Rabb won’t be on the court this weekend as she’s still recovering from a knee injury suffered in March at the GNAC Tournament.
The other two veterans are Jazzpher Evans and Elaina Mack, of King Cove, the only Alaska player on the team.
Evans, a 5-foot-6 senior guard out of Shorewood, Ill., is averaging 15.7 points and was part of the All-GNAC Preseason Team.
Mack, a 5-foot-8 sophomore guard, is averaging 8.3 points on the strength of 7-of-14 shooting on 3s.
Mack had a legendary high school career, averaging 40 points as a senior and scoring a single-game state record 58 points. She ranks No. 3 on Alaska’s all-time prep scoring list with 2,577 points – 37 behind Pili’s No. 2 total of 2,614 points.
Mack, who is one year younger than Pili, never got the chance to face the three-time Alaska Player of the Year in high school but she will get her shot at the Shootout.
Another UAA standout is 6-foot-3 center Tori Hollingshead of Orem, Utah. The junior transfer is averaging 14 points on a .750 FG% to go with 7 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 1.7 blocked shots.
Saturday’s Shootout schedule also features an intriguing first-round matchup between EKU vs. UAB, a couple of unbeaten teams with a bevy of backcourt stars.
EKU has maybe the best guard in the tournament in Antwainette Walker, a 26-point scorer who was named to the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Watchlist before the season.
The 5-foot-11 double-double machine out of Lisle, Ill., comes to the Shootout on the heels of scoring a career-high 38 points in a 77-75 road win against Evansville.
Last year she averaged 21 points and 9.4 rebounds in 30 games, highlighted by her 33-point, 11-rebound gem against Austin Peay. She had 17 rebounds against Midway and her 28 points at Liberty Arena set the single-game arena record.
Walker, who previously played at Marquette and Arkansas Little Rock, has recorded 15 double-doubles in 32 career games at EKU.
UAB counters with the outside-inside combo of guard Mia Moore and forward Tracey Bershers.
Moore, a 5-foot-6 sophomore out of Alpharetta, Ga., is a Mississippi State transfer averaging 22.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists for the Blazers. She pumped in 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting in the season opener against Alabama A&M.
Bershers, a 6-foot-2 sophomore from Fort Smith, Ark., is an Oklahoma State transfer who has emerged as a formidable force inside after grabbing a career-high nine rebounds against Alabama A&M and scoring a career-high 20 points against Western Carolina.
Location: Anchorage, Alaska
Head Coach: Ryan McCarthy
Record at UAA: 262-53, 12 seasons
Overall Record: 276-66, 13 seasons
Associate Head Coach: Shaina Afoa
Assistant Coach: Jalon McCullough
2022-23 Record: 18-10
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 4/9
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Head Coach: Lynne Roberts
Record at Utah: 139-104, 8 seasons
Overall Record: 360-279, 21 seasons
Assistants: Gavin Petersen, Jerise Freeman, Jordan Sullivan
2022-23 Record: 27-5
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 7/5
Location: Richmond, Kentucky
Conference: Atlantic Sun
Head Coach: Greg Todd
Record at EKU: 33-30, 2 seasons
Overall Record: 138-136, 9 seasons
Assistants: Coretta Brown, Veronica Ryan, Chad Gibney, Brie Wajer
2022-23 Record: 18-14
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 4/6
Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Conference: American Athletic
Head Coach: Randy Norton
Record at UAB: 177-129, 10 seasons
Overall Record: 177-129, 10 seasons
Assistants: Taren Martin, Kayla Alexander, Alison Seberger, Kara Rawls
2022-23 Record: 14-17
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 9/5
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