SALT LAKE CITY (AP)Alissa Pili showed right away that her injured ankle was just fine.
Pili scored 26 points and Jenna Johnson added 21 to help No. 8 Utah beat California 101-76 on Thursday night.
”It’s just been a lot of rehab and treatment just to get it feeling better and good enough for me to go,” Pili said.
Returning from a sprained ankle that kept her out last game, Pili dominated her 26 minutes on the court and the Utes built enough of a lead to allow her to get some extra rest.
”She’s a tough kid, in case you haven’t noticed,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said.
Pili and Johnson combined to make 19 of 28 field goals, with most of them in the paint.
”The thing about Alissa and Jenna both is they’re just so reliable. We never have to wonder or worry where their headspace may be,” Roberts said.
The Utes made 27 layups as they take almost all their shots from beyond the arc or at the basket.
”Rolling to the hoop hard and the guards finding me with little dump-off passes,” Johnson said of her success around the basket.
The Utes (24-3, 14-3 Pac-12) went 5-for-8 from behind the 3-point line and ran at every opportunity in the second half to break open a tight game and cruise to a wire-to-wire victory and keep them undefeated at home.
”We run at elevation every day and we have big motors. The other team always wears down before we do and when we see that, it makes us run even harder,” Johnson said.
Jayda Curry paced the Bears (13-15, 4-13) with 28 points and Kemery Martin, a transfer from Utah, contributed 15.
”Jayda is getting going. This is the Jada Curry that we all know,” Cal coach Charmin Smith said. ”We did a good job knocking down shots early.”
Behind Curry, a dynamic shooter who can score from anywhere, the Bears tied the Utes four times in the second quarter but never led. Issy Palmer banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Utah a 49-43 edge at halftime.
Pili, a transfer from USC, is a physical presence who had opponents bouncing off her post moves and defense throughout the game. They even stopped play in the first quarter to check for a flagrant when a Bear collided with Pili and fell hard to the court but ruled it a common foul.
After allowing a 9-0 run to start their last game against Arizona State, the Utes asserted themselves early this time surging to a 15-2 start behind Pili’s nine points in the first four minutes.
Despite a roster without any seniors, the Utes are motoring through the best season in program history with a top-five offense and a consistent spot in the Top 10 since the turn of the new year.
”It was a good, balanced team win. Now we’re 14-3? Wow, to win 14 games in this league is a big deal,” Roberts said. ”So proud of this team.”
California: The Bears are playing as well as they have all season after beating USC in their last game and their offense continued to be unstoppable at times on Thursday. The deterrent to an upset bid was their inability to stop Utah’s multi-pronged attack and committing some inopportune turnovers to start Utah fast breaks.
Utah: After struggling on the Arizona trip with a loss to Arizona and narrow win over last-place Arizona State, the Utes looked more like themselves with Pili controlling the middle and multiple players getting to the hoop on straight-line drives and fast breaks.
How far the Utes rise will depend more on how they fare Saturday’s regular-season finale against No. 3 Stanford, which holds a one-game lead over Utah in the Pac-12 standings.
California: At Colorado on Saturday.
Utah: Hosts Stanford on Saturday.