SALT LAKE CITY (AP)Alissa Pili scored 15 points and Gianna Kneepkens had 14 points and 13 rebounds to lead No. 7 Utah to a 73-59 victory over Washington State on Sunday.
Jenna Johnson added 14 points and seven boards for Utah, while Daisa Young had 13 points and Kennedy McQueen chipped in 12. Utah (22-2, 12-2 Pac-12) got its seventh straight Pac-12 win.
The Utes shot just 36% from the field during the second half but were able to use their defense to grind out what Utah coach Lynne Roberts called ”a hard-fought win,” adding, ”we knew it would be.”
Bella Murekatete led Washington State (16-9, 6-8) with 18 points and 14 rebounds, and Charlisse Leger-Walker added 17 points.
The Cougars, who shot 29% from the floor in the second half, lost their third straight to an AP Top 25 opponent.
”I thought we guarded them pretty well,” Washington State coach Kamie Ethridge said. ”I thought we did a lot of good things. We made some mistakes, but we kept the score manageable. We just didn’t score enough points.”
Utah’s defensive pressure gave Washington State problems throughout the first half, scoring 13 points off seven forced turnovers. Utah closed the second quarter with a 12-3 run, during which Pili and Young combined for four of five baskets.
The Utes had a 41-32 halftime lead, which Washington State cut to 41-36 on back-to-back layups from Murekatete and Leger-Walker early in the third quarter.
But the Cougars never drew closer, and the Utes eventually built a 19-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, going up 68-49 on back-to-back baskets from Kneepkens and McQueen.
”They were playing a little harder than us and I don’t like losing,” Kneepkens said. ”I was just finding ways to get the boards and then also attacking (the rim).”
One big key for Utah was curtailing Washington State from cleaning up on offensive rebounds as the game progressed. The Cougars had six offensive boards in the first quarter, leading to seven second-chance points. Utah had a single offensive rebound before halftime.
Washington State ended up with only six more offensive boards and a single second-chance point over the final three quarters.
”I think I said (at halftime) if we finished the game with two offensive rebounds, we for sure were going to lose,” Roberts said. ”We’re too good to just go through the motions and hope we win. And I thought we did a much better job in that second half.”
Washington State: The Cougars were strong on the glass against Utah but undercut their chance at pulling an upset by struggling to take care of the ball.
Utah: Relentless defense served the Utes well in a game where the shots weren’t falling as frequently as usual.
Washington State: Hosts Oregon on Friday.
Utah: Visits Arizona on Friday.
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25