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How No. 22 Utah fended off Arizona State in the Pac-12 tournament’s first round

Utah women's basketball took down Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday.
Utah women's basketball took down Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday.

LAS VEGAS — Ines Vieira cashed in the biggest shot of the night in Las Vegas.

Her 50-foot buzzer-beating bank shot 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter of No. 22 Utah’s first-round matchup against Arizona State changed the tide in a game that looked like it might be ripe for an upset.

Instead, the No. 6 seed Utes were able to fend off the No. 11 seed Sun Devils 71-60 Wednesday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

“First, I was surprised. I don’t know,” Vieira said of the shot. “I just throw the ball sometimes not thinking it’s gonna go in. But hopefully yeah, hopefully it goes in and then I was just happy for the team.”

Utah turned that momentum-shifting shot into a 12-4 run that led to the Utes taking a game-high 14-point lead with 7:02 to play.

“Those are momentum shots. I’ve been on the other end of those,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “We do a shooting drill where the first person to make half-court shot, I don’t think Ines made it all season. But those are big momentum plays and you know, got our fans back in it.”

From there, Utah did enough to overcome a spirited effort from Arizona State.

“We can walk out of that game with our heads up because we competed for 40 minutes,” Arizona State coach Natasha Adair said. “It was not the outcome that we wanted, obviously, but there were bright spots and there have been bright spots all season.”

Utah’s coach praised the effort and fight she saw from the Sun Devils.

“I thought they came to compete and they played really hard. They didn’t make it easy on us for sure,” Roberts said.

On Wednesday night, ASU planned to make it tough on Alissa Pili.

“Obviously Pili is Pili. I mean she really had a presence inside. The plan was to trap her, the plan was to not let her turn, make her throw it back out,” Adair said. “In moments, the rotations were late but what I really loved was that we honed in to what we were supposed to do, and we made it a game.”

Vieira turned that emphasis on Pili into a near career-night, as her 18 points were just two short of her career high. She made 7 of 12 shots and led four Utah players in double-figures while adding five rebounds and three assists.

“I trust her and she’s definitely our engine that makes us go, so proud of her for that,” Roberts said of Vieira.

In addition to the third-quarter buzzer-beater, Vieira also scored four points in a 14-2 run in the second quarter where Utah turned an early deficit into an eight-point lead, and the Utes never trailed again.

“I trust her and she’s definitely our engine that makes us go, so proud of her for that.”

Utah coach Lynne Roberts, on Ines Vieira

Turnovers were a sore spot for the Utes, as they finished with 17 and had seven in the first quarter — that helped ASU build a seven-point lead in the early going. Trayanna Crisp scored seven points in the first quarter as part of a 19-point effort.

Eventually, though, the Utah tenacity and toughness made its way to the top.

Pili scored a game-high 20 points, 16 of those in the second half.

“We made a concerted effort to get her the dang ball in the second half,” Roberts said.

She also had 11 rebounds — Roberts said she “rebounded with authority” — leading the charge as Utah outrebounded the Sun Devils 39-26. That helped the Utes own an 11-8 advantage in second-chance points and 40-26 edge in points in the paint.

When teams are keying on Pili, like Arizona State was, she said she’s learned to focus on things like setting good screens, being a facilitator, rebounding and playing hard to continue making an impact, and it worked again Wednesday.

“You know doing the controllable things when you know I may not be scoring as much, I just trusted my teammates and trusted the process,” Pili said. “I wasn’t going to force anything and kind of take great shots and not force anything. And I think that I just let the game come to me.”

Pili’s presence opened lanes for guards like Vieira, Kennedy McQueen (11 points) and Maty Wilke (10) to cash in.

“It really helps a lot, at least for me, like she sealed a lot and that’s how I got one so it doesn’t show on the stats, only if you’re watching the game,” Vieira said.

That sets the Utes up with a quarterfinal matchup against No. 3 seed UCLA. The Utes and Bruins split their regular-season matchups — Utah won in overtime in Salt Lake City, while UCLA beat the Utes by 30 in Los Angeles.

“I think UCLA is a complete team,” Roberts said. “... They’re well coached, they execute their stuff they’re playing at a really high level right now. So we’ll have a game plan ready, and we’ll be ready.”