On Nov. 18, when the University of Alaska Anchorage women’s basketball team steps on the hardwood in front of their home fans at the Alaska Airlines Center for the first time during the 2023 season, they’ll face Division I powerhouse University of Utah in the Great Alaska Shootout.
Alaska sports fans will see a familiar face leading the Utes against the Division II Seawolves. Anchorage’s Alissa Pili was the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Player of the Year for Utah last year in her first year with the program after transferring from USC.
Before she donned the red and white for the Utes and red and yellow for the Trojans, Pili had a legendary high school career in the maroon and gold at Dimond High School, where she was a four-sport star in basketball, volleyball, wrestling, and track and field.
“We are really excited about this year’s Shootout and extremely grateful for the continued commitment shown by our title sponsors, ASRC and ConocoPhillips Alaska,” UAA head coach Ryan McCarthy said in a statement. “I know local fans will be thrilled to welcome home one of the best players in state history in Alissa, and our players are even more fired up for the challenge.”
According to McCarthy, UAA initially reached out to Utah because of Pili and “thought it might be a good opportunity for her to be able to come play in front of her family and Anchorage.” That’s when McCarthy reached out to a friend on the Utes coaching staff, associate head coach Gavin Peterson.
“I talked with him basically the whole time about trying to make this happen, and he talked with their staff,” he said Tuesday in an interview. “It just seemed like it was going to be a good fit, and I think it’s really good for women’s basketball, because Utah had such a special season last year.”
Utah won a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title and was a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament, falling to eventual champion LSU.
Pili will get the chance to take the Alaska Airlines Center court one last time — and for the first time since her senior season in 2019, when she led the Lynx to a second straight 4A state championship.
“She was always at our camps and always a player that we got to see kind of develop in front of our eyes as she went on to play at the Power-5 (conference) level,” he said.
Utah isn’t the only Division I program that UAA will face during the Shootout. The Seawolves will also take on the Eastern Kentucky Colonels and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers over the course of the two-day tournament.
“We’re excited that the Shootout has grown,” McCarthy said of the tournament, which returned in 2022 after a four-year hiatus. “Last year we didn’t have any Power-5 teams and now we’ve got Utah, who is obviously one of the best in the country, and two other solid mid-major programs that are coming up.”
While the Great Alaska Shootout will be the Seawolves’ home opener, the team will officially tip off its 2023 campaign with a trio of road games. First up will be their season opener against Pacific University on Nov. 5, followed by a two-day stint in the Aloha State when they travel to Hawaii to play Hawaii Pacific and Hawaii Hilo in back-to-back days.
The Seawolves’ first home games against Great Northwest Athletic Conference competition won’t take place until after New Year’s, on Jan. 4, when they host the Western Washington University Vikings.