Pili plows path at USC: “I have my own unique style of play”

April 27, 2020
Alissa Pili basketball

Alissa Pili

The women’s basketball tradition at the University of Southern California is so historic HBO made a documentary about it.

They should have saved room for Alissa Pili of Anchorage.

Based on her remarkable rookie season, it’s no exaggeration to call the powerful 6-foot All-Pac-12 forward the next great player for the Women of Troy.

Pili gave USC its first Pac-12 Freshman of the Year since 2009 and just the second since 1994.

She also scored the most points for a USC freshman in 29 years and finished fourth all-time in freshman scoring average, joining a list of legendary names.

USC Freshman Scoring Record
20.4 Cheryl Miller 1983
20.0 Paula McGee 1981
19.4 Lisa Leslie 1991
16.3 Alissa Pili 2020
14.9 Pam McGee 1981

“My stats, they were good for a freshman but that’s not what I was aiming towards. I was aiming for the bigger things,” Pili told me. “I don’t care that I’m a freshman. I knew I could do all of this.”

Pili, of Dimond High fame, was a 4-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. She bagged 11 double-doubles in 31 games and put up season highs of 32 points and 17 rebounds – joining Kelsey Griffin and Ruthy Hebard (both WNBA first-round draft picks) as the only Alaska women to post 30 & 15 at the D1 level.

“Knowing I was going against some of the top players in the nation, some of the top teams in the nation … we were kind of the underdogs and so going into every game, I don’t care who I’m playing against; I don’t care who I’m guarding; I don’t care who is guarding me. I’m just gonna go out there and play my game and not let anything stop me. That was my mindset.”

Going from the Cook Inlet Conference to the Pac-12 Conference was a giant leap in competition, but Pili made it look seamless. She finished seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring (16.3), fifth in field-goal percentage (.511), seventh in free-throw attempts (4.4) and fifth in rebounds (8.0).

“After conference started, that’s when I started to get a feel for where I fit in and what I need to do to help my team win,” Pili said. “I just trusted the process. I was getting frustrated at the beginning of the year because it started off slow for me. Trusting my coaches, trusting my teammates and trusting myself, I think I had to be patient and wait for my time to come.”

USC finished 17-14 on the season and lost to No. 8 UCLA in the second round of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.

“In conference, we gotta bring our A-game. We gotta play as hard as we can every single game because the competition is crazy,” she said. “Every game is going to be a tough battle and I think just having that mindset before every game was something that stood out and something I had to do to prepare for every game.”

There were many nights when the 18-year-old Pili overpowered opponents in the Pac-12 just like she did in Alaska, where she set a Class 4A girls all-time scoring record with 2,614 career points.

Even in college, it was common to see defenders with no clue how to stop Pili’s skills, speed and strength.

“I don’t really try to compare myself to any other players and people haven’t really tried to compare me to anybody else,” she said. “I have my own unique style of play.”