Trinity Baptiste caught an entry pass above her head, took a power dribble to her right and pressed her shoulder into her defender to create space to elevate for an easy 2-pointer.
The strong move accounted for Arizona’s first points against Stony Brook and set the tone in a dominant 79-44 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“She’s going in there aggressive…and that’s what we need from her in order to win,” senior forward Sam Thomas said.
The low-post duo of Baptiste and Cate Reese went on to combine for 34 points on 15-of-19 shooting, and Thomas is right—that is a winning formula. Arizona has not lost this season when one of its starting posts scores more than 10 points. Both did Monday.
Baptiste, who has now scored in double figures eight times this season, was cognizant of that stat, saying she and Reese need to be more consistent for the Wildcats to get where they want to go this March. Head coach Adia Barnes agrees, but doesn’t put the onus squarely on them.
“They have to post up hard and want the ball, when they get the ball they have to make the plays with the ball, not force it, take good shots, but then it’s twofold because then the guards have to give them the ball,” she said. “So I think that yesterday (against Stony Brook) I was intentional about running plays that I specified, ‘this is a post play. This is to get Cate the ball in this situation. This is a play to get Trinity the ball in this situation.’ And just being intentional about it, but then the players were able to execute it. I think in the past we’d say that and then it wouldn’t be executed.”
The Wildcats had 18 assists on 33 made field goals against Stony Brook, one of their highest assist percentages of the season. Barnes is optimistic that they can keep it going, sensing a different focus from her team ever since it arrived at the NCAA Tournament last week.
“There’s a different motivation and you can see it,” she said. “We look around the room, we know we need each other. … We were playing selfless, we were playing together, we were playing at another level yesterday. Like I said before, we’re gonna play our best basketball. I just can feel it, I can see and I can see the way our team is mentally prepared.”
In the Round of 32, they will face 11-seed BYU, a gritty team that is much more equipped to handle Arizona’s interior presence.
The Cougars start 6-foot-7 shot blocker Sara Hamson and 6-foot-1 all-WCC forward Lauren Gustin, a walking double-double. But Hamson only averages 18 minutes per game because BYU plays 4-out a lot. They like to use Tegan Graham, a guard/forward, alongside Gustin to give them more shooting and athleticism.
Barnes expects to see that lineup a lot because that’s how Pac-12 teams have tried to defend Arizona this season—often with success.
BYU coach Jeff Judkins said the key for his team will be limiting Aari McDonald’s dribble penetration and, subsequently, Arizona’s transition game, which Barnes agreed is where her team is at its best.
But Judkins, who conceded that McDonald is “unbelievable” and faster than anyone they have seen aside from one of their male practice players, also respects UA’s frontcourt.
“I think Reese does not get enough credit for what she does,” he said. “She’s a very, very good player. She can shoot it, she can drive and she can post. She’s a great rebounder.”
Reese had 16 points vs. Stony Brook, the first time she totaled more than 10 points in a game since Feb. 14 against Washington. Arizona shot 55% that night, the best mark of the season until it shot 58% against Stony Brook.
The Wildcats’ efficiency dipped significantly between those games, shooting below 42% in five straight contests. They went 2-3 during that stretch.
“When Cate’s aggressive and scoring inside and then Trinity’s aggressive and scoring inside we’re just so much better,” Barnes said. “And then Lauren (Ware) came off the bench, I wish I could have found some more minutes for Lauren, but when they are all a threat inside it just makes us that much stronger. I always talk about for us to be successful, we need balance. And we have Aari distributing the ball and taking really good shots, running good offense, Bendu (Yeaney) driving to the basket, Shaina (Pellington) coming in attacking the basket, Helena (Pueyo) shooting 3s, we’re just at our best when those eight are getting involved.”
The Wildcats truly were hitting on all cylinders against Stony Brook, even going 8 for 12 from 3, a huge outlier for a team that barely shoots 30% from long range. Barnes sees that for what it is and doesn’t want her players falling in love with the 3-point shot. She wants the ball moving toward the basket.
“There’s been a couple games the whole year we just got hot, but we’re not good at doing that,” she said. “We don’t have to take that 3, but we can take that reversal and drive and get the shots that we want. So we talked a lot about that the last few weeks—taking the shots that we want, when we want. …. If we play offense and defense like the way we did [against Stony Brook], I think we’re capable of beating anybody in country.”