The Wildcats prevailed in a game between two Top-10 teams
The 7th-ranked Arizona women’s basketball team continued its rise on Friday, showing a lot of resilience in a 68-65 win over No. 9 UCLA.
It’s the Wildcats’ second win of the season and their third win over a top-10 team in their last four tries, more proof that they are an elite team.
Our full recap and postgame interviews can be found here. Below are some additional takeaways and a video recap from McKale Center with Troy Hutchison of AllSportsTucson.
The newcomers were clutch and proved how much depth this team has
Arizona was in dire straits in the second quarter. Leading scorers Aari McDonald and Cate Reese both had two fouls and UCLA had grown its lead to 11 points.
That would have been a recipe for disaster in years past. Especially against a top-10 team.
Now, the Wildcats have other options.
In this case, it was the newcomers who picked up the slack.
Virginia Tech transfer Trinity Baptiste had a huge first half, with 11 points and seven rebounds through the first two periods.
She drained a 3-pointer from the top of the arc in the final seconds of the second quarter to trim the deficit to 38-32, a major momentum shifter heading into a third quarter that wound up turning the game in the Wildcats’ favor. (More on that in a sec.)
Baptiste later buried a face-up mid-range jumper to put UA up 58-54 with three minutes left in the fourth, as well as the dagger 3 that pushed the lead to 64-56 with 1:11 left.
She finished with 18 points and 11 crucial boards, helping the Wildcats keep the rebounding margin respectable against a physical Bruins frontcourt. (47-42 in UCLA’s favor.)
“I would say tonight was like a dogfight, for sure, which is what I love,” Baptiste said. “Just growing up playing street ball, I’m all for it.”
Bendu Yeaney was the star of the fourth quarter. The Indiana transfer soared for a putback layup to give Arizona a 50-48 lead with seven minutes left, then buried a corner 3 and drew a charge to help ignite an 8-0 run that gave the Wildcats their biggest lead of the night.
She finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and even four assists off the bench.
“In the past, we wouldn’t have won these games, but then we had Bendu step up, we had Lauren (Ware) come in and have some great rebounds. I think we just made some really big plays,” head coach Adia Barnes said. “And Trinity just brings us some physical play in the post. And she’s strong and she’s aggressive and she’s experienced, all those things that really help us. And we’re much better on the boards this year with her and Bendu.”
And their scoring kept the Wildcats in the game until McDonald inevitably got hot, which happened in the fourth quarter when she scored seven of her 17 points.
That Arizona beat UCLA on a night when McDonald and Reese combined for 22 points on 22 shots is a great sign.
“This is probably the most depth we’ve had since I’ve been here,” McDonald said. “It takes the pressure off the starters, so they need to keep doing what they’re doing.”
Whatever you do, don’t rewatch the third quarter
It was ugly. Really ugly.
The Bruins missed 17 of their 18 shots and should probably have to pay to refurbish the rims in McKale Center. They took a beating. The Wildcats weren’t that much better, though, shooting 6 for 17 in the period with four turnovers.
Still, it was enough for them to flip a six-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead heading into the fourth.
UCLA missed some easy buckets around the rim, yes, but Arizona’s defense deserves credit too. They scrapped for loose balls and their ball pressure and active hands made the Bruins uncomfortable.
McDonald thought it was Arizona’s best defensive effort of her career.
“Our defense was phenomenal,” Barnes agreed, though she lamented that her team allowed too many and-ones.
UCLA coach Cori Close attributed her team’s third-quarter meltdown woes to an “emotional panic.” Fatigue was probably a factor too. The Bruins only had eight players available and looked tired as their lead slipped away in the third.
“We got good shots, we didn’t make them,” Close said. “And instead of sort of hunkering down and going, ‘Hey, let’s make one more pass, set one more screen. Let’s get a cleaner shot so it goes in,’ we started going one-on-one. And with a team with the athleticism and defensive prowess of Arizona, that’s not a good idea.”
The lack of a home crowd was really noticeable
There were several points in the game when Arizona made a run to close the gap or extend its lead and UCLA was able to counter and keep the game at bay.
You wonder how that would have been different if the Wildcats had a raucous McKale Center crowd behind them. Would the Bruins have gotten even more frantic like they did in the third quarter? Would the energy have fueled Arizona to the point that its 8-0 runs would have ballooned into 18-0 runs? Would they have even fallen behind by 11 points in the first place?
We’ll never know, but Barnes didn’t downplay the impact of the empty stadium, describing the atmosphere as scrimmage-like.
So much so that it actually diminished the magnitude of the win. The postgame celebration was pretty subdued.
“I know it’s a big game because of [the rankings] but it doesn’t feel like that,” she said. “It just feels like a tough game.”
Rebounding and shooting are STILL problems
I know I keep harping on this, but it cannot be overlooked.
Arizona shot 6 for 25 from 3 against UCLA after shooting 3 for 13 in the opener vs. NAU. Add that up and it’s a 3-point percentage of 23.7 for the season. Yuck.
The Wildcats are even shooting poorly at the free-throw line. They went just 10 for 17 against UCLA, a big reason the Bruins were able to make it a one-possession game late in the final minute and even had a shot to tie it at the buzzer.
As for the rebounding struggles that have dated back to the Niya Butts era, the Wildcats allowed 19 offensive boards, resulting in 18 second-chance points for the Bruins. They gave up 16 offensive boards to a tiny NAU team last Sunday.
Practice next week isn’t going to be fun.
“We’re trying to jump with people instead of using a technique of boxing out, so we’re gonna work on that every day,” Barnes said.
Shaina is starting slow
Much was made this offseason about Shaina Pellington and how dynamic she and McDonald would be in the backcourt together, giving Arizona a second guard that’s capable of creating shots for themselves and others.
So far, it’s been a quiet start for the Oklahoma transfer. Pellington has zero assists and 15 points on 16 shots through the first two games, including just four points on five shots against UCLA.
Is that a cause for concern? Not yet. Remember, Pellington didn’t play at all last season and is only two games into her Arizona career.
Give her, and this whole offense for that matter, some time to grow.
“Normally you play these type of games another month from now, so it’s a big difference playing these games early in December,” Barnes said. “You’re not as sharp, there’s less cohesiveness. So I think that it will get better. It was an ugly win, but we found a way.”