If No. 14 Arizona women’s basketball had any hopes of hosting the opening rounds of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, it probably had to win both games this weekend. Instead, the Wildcats became the team that ended Oregon’s seven-game losing streak and Oregon State’s nine-game losing streak. Even worse, they lost key reserve Helena Pueyo to an injury with 3:10 left in the first half.
The Wildcats were able to battle back after falling behind by 20 points, but the shorthanded team couldn’t overtake Oregon State in the 78-70 loss. It was redemption for the Beavers, who squandered a 12-point third-quarter lead in Tucson in a loss earlier in the season.
Pueyo was knocked to the floor after hitting heads with an Oregon State player. She had a cut over her eye. Head coach Adia Barnes said after the game that Pueyo required stitches, but she is not in concussion protocol. She did not return to the game.
The Wildcats were led by Esmery Martinez with 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting. She added eight rebounds and two steals.
Madi Conner was the only other Wildcat to end in double figures. She had 11 points, four rebounds and one assist. She also took a crucial charge on Oregon State’s Raegan Beers late in the game.
“She’s aggressive,” Barnes said of Conner. “She’s physical. She played great defense on Raegan Beers and she’s a guard. We need that same intensity from our post players.”
The others who got close to double digits were Shaina Pellington and Lauren Fields, both of whom scored nine points. Pellington added three rebounds, seven assists and four steals. Fields had four rebounds and one assist.
Arizona struggled with foul trouble against the bigger Oregon State team. Paris Clark had two fouls in the first quarter. Cate Reese picked up her second foul in the second quarter and Maya Nnaji was whistled for three in the first 20 minutes.
“I think it was the size,” Barnes said. “And because we’re undersized inside we had to...help and they were doing a great job of skipping the ball.”
Reese fouled out late in the fourth quarter trying to stop a fast break. Pellington and Martinez both ended the game with four fouls. Fields, Conner, Clark and Nnaji all ended with three apiece.
It wasn’t as if the Beavers were making a living at the line in the first half, though. They took no free throws in the first half while Arizona went 4 for 6 over the first 20 minutes. The Wildcats racked up fouls in non-shooting situations or on the offensive end of the court which left them struggling to defend Oregon State’s big front court with players who stand less than six feet tall.
Things started to even out in the third quarter when OSU shot eight free throws and UA went to the line four times. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Wildcats had a 10 to 8 advantage in free throws attempted despite five players on OSU having zero fouls and only Bendu Yeaney having as many as three.
It looked like the Beavers were going to run away with the game in the third quarter. They built a 20-point lead with 1:30 left to go in the period.
Arizona knew that it could come back against this Oregon State team, though. So did the Beavers.
Last time they met, the Wildcats erased a 12-point deficit in the third quarter to win. Fields played a big role in the comeback in Tucson.
On Saturday, Fields again played a big role in a comeback. She ended with nine points on 3-for-8 shooting. All three came from beyond the arc in the second half. She added four rebounds and one assist in 31 minutes.
Arizona trimmed five points off the lead in the final 90 seconds of the third quarter. The Wildcats started the final quarter hot. Nnaji hit a midrange jumper. Pellington got two on the fastbreak. Fields hit the last of her three 3-point shots. The lead was in single digits with just eight points separating the two teams.
The Beavers pushed it back to 15 only to see the Wildcats take another run at them. The lead was down to four with 1:06 to go in the game. Arizona only scored once more as OSU shot six straight free throws. The Beavers’ final field goal came with 4:13 left in the game, but their free throws were enough to secure the victory despite UA hitting two 3-pointers and two layups over that period.
Arizona next plays on Thursday at 1 p.m. MST in the Michelob ULTRA Arena at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. The fourth-seeded Wildcats will face the winner of the opening round game between the No. 12 and No. 5 seeds.