Tracking down the best player in program history for the opening of your conference is a big deal, especially when she’s inducted into the school’s Ring of Honor. Trying to get your coach to achieve his 100th career victory is too. The same goes for having a senior in the top 10 of your all-time scorecard.
Would the Arizona Wildcats be able to make it a happy occasion with a win over Washington State? They should do it after missing three games and not facing another team in three weeks.
And they did, but not without difficulty.
“I think it was a bit of the mental lapses,” said the senior striker Cate reese. “I think it just got a little rusty. We haven’t played for a while. I think we will obviously improve in these areas.
A long time spent off the court can lead to rusting. Rust wasn’t the only difference for the Wildcats, however. The starting lineup was significantly different from what Arizona relied on for most of the season, but the Wildcats fought in a quick game to defeat Washington State 60-52.
On January 5, the head coach Adia barnes first said this second post Lauren ware would be available. Ware was injured in the opening seconds of the game against North Dakota State on December 9 and has not played since. However, Barnes added that if she saw anything suggesting it was best to hold Ware, she would. Apparently she saw something because Ware was in formal attire.
More surprising was the absence of a starting playmaker Shaina Pellington. In his place was the junior guard Helene pueyo.
“I’m always ready,” Pueyo said. “So tonight I had the opportunity to do it. And yes, it was fun. I appreciate it very much.
No reason was given for Pellington’s absence, she was not at the game, but Barnes said she could be back when the team travels to Los Angeles on Sunday to play against USC.
“She just came out,” Barnes said.
Reese led the team with 20 points, 7 rebounds, an assist and 3 steals. She was joined in double digits by Pueyo, who had 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks while not committing any turnovers or fouls.
Sam thomas came big with 8 points, 6 rebounds, a career-high 8 assists and a block.
In the absence of two starters, Arizona had a very uneven performance. He kept the WSU at single-digit points in the first and third quarters, but gave up 19 in the second and 21 in the fourth.
In the third quarter, the former Arizona star Aari McDonald– who was back to get her name inscribed on the Arizona Ring of Honor – sat down with the team of announcers from the Pac-12 Network. His former teammates took over on the pitch.
The Wildcats outscored the Cougars 23-7 out of the locker room. At the end of the third quarter, the home side were leading 46-31.
Halfway through the race, Reese entered Arizona’s top 10 all-time scorers list, surpassing Dana Patterson’s career 1,299 points from 1985 to 1988. Reese finished the game with 1,306 points for his career.
“It’s awesome,” Reese said. “I came to Arizona to be an impact player, to leave a legacy, and I think I do and I think it’s my teammates who find me right on the floor. So they do a great job and I’m really happy that I was able to get it tonight.
The third quarter race did not last. After taking a 15-point lead at the end of the third, the Wildcats let the Cougars close the two-point lead with less than a minute to go.
Technical fouls on the Washington State bench with 41.7 remaining gave the Wildcats a 57-52 lead and the ball. After the game, the Cougars head coach Kamie ethridge said she was talking to her players, but officials mistakenly assumed she was cursing them and called the technician. The quick whistle may have been linked to several near-altercations between opposing players, but it was a crucial call that helped save the Wildcats.
Washington State was led by Krystal Leger-Walker with 12 points, nine rebounds, six assists and one steal.
His younger sister Charlisse Leger-Walker, who leads the team with 16.6 points per game, was held to seven points mainly by Thomas’ defense. Charlisse also contributed six rebounds, an assist and a steal, but managed five turnovers.
“Sam is always put on probably one of the best players among Guards,” Reese said. “I mean, that’s just what she’s known for. She’s a defensive drag and I think that’s nothing new to her.
Despite Charlisse’s struggles, Arizona was fortunate enough to squeeze in with victory on their home turf. Beyond the late technique that happened to them, the Wildcats struggled in many facets of the game, and it was not a new phenomenon.
Turnover was a problem for both teams. Arizona finished with 15 points which turned into 19 points for Washington State. Five of the nine players who got minutes for the Wildcats have suffered at least two turnovers.
“If we had taken care of the basketball… the game would have been really different,” Barnes said. “I think we could have won in double digits.”
The Wildcats forced 18 turnovers from the Cougars, but could only turn them into 10 points. They’ve struggled from the foul line as well, hitting just 16 of 24. This has been a running theme so far this season.
Another old problem – losing the rebound game – has also arisen. Washington State passed Arizona 35-29 and had eight offensive rebounds against just two for the Wildcats.
Yet all’s well that ends well. Arizona was able to survive after not playing a game in three weeks and with two missing starters. This allowed Barnes to reach 100 wins faster than any coach in Arizona women’s basketball history, surpassing her own coach, Joan bonvicini.