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NCAA Women’s Tournament: Slow starts end the season for Arizona in the 2nd round

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Maryland Photo by Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

It couldn’t have been a worse start for Arizona in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. The seventh-seeded Wildcats were behind 12-2 in the first quarter and ended the period with almost as many turnovers (7) as points (8). A run in the second quarter wasn’t enough, as the second-seeded Maryland Terrapins controlled the second half to defeat the Wildcats 77-64 at the XFINITY Center in College Park on Sunday afternoon.

“They outplayed us, especially the first couple minutes of the game and the third quarter and made some things really difficult for us,” said Arizona head coach Adia Barnes. “They are a good team, so you know, I think at times they wanted it a little more and they made plays. You’re at home, you should do that.”

Barnes was not disappointed in the effort her team gave almost 2,300 miles from home, though.

“For us, I’m proud of our team,” Barnes said. “We came in here and knew it was going to be tough on the road at a home site. I thought we battled. We didn’t start off the game—I think we were nervous and tight—and battled and played great defense and went into the half feeling good. Then the third quarter happened. We just have to learn from that. We can’t go through those lulls and win games, especially on the road.”

Arizona had trouble on both ends of the floor to start the game. The Wildcats started shaving points off the lead early in the second quarter, getting it down to eight points at the 8:23 mark. They started finding Cate Reese in the paint and taking care of the ball.

It was the formula for success. Arizona outscored Maryland 25-15 in the second quarter, taking a one-point lead into halftime.

“I thought Cate did a good job,” Barnes said. “She battled and gave effort on both ends. She played 35 minutes and being the primary scorer, I think it says a lot. I thought she was getting bodied a lot in the first half and I said, don’t flop that much because we need you in transition because when you flop on the floor, we don’t have you in transition. But she fought and wanted to win and played hard. We just needed other people to step up. I think Lauren stepped up, but we needed other people to make shots, and that’s kind of how it goes.”

It wouldn’t last long. Maryland emerged from the locker room ready. Arizona looked like the team that started the game. Once again, the Wildcats scored single digits in a quarter, not getting a point until Helena Pueyo hit a layup with 5:36 to go in the quarter.

The Wildcats were behind by 61-42 at the end of the third. They would close the lead to 13 late in the fourth, but there was not enough time left on the clock.

After holding Terrapins star Diamond Miller to 2-9 shooting in the first half, Arizona couldn’t stop her in the second. She finished 11 for 19 from the field, making every one of her shots in the second half. She had 24 points, six rebounds, a block, and three steals.

“Diamond is a great player,” Barnes said. “She’s versatile. She’s long, she’s athletic. She’s a gamer. She’s an All-American. I coached her at USA Basketball and we won a gold together, so I was very familiar with her. She poses a difficult matchup. So, I think she was just a handful for us, and really, it looks like to me that probably Brenda [Frese] got into her at halftime and challenged her because she came out like a different player in the second half.”

The Wildcats were led by Reese, who fought in her last game in a Wildcat uniform. The five-year starter had 19 points on 8 for 12 shooting and four rebounds.

Esmery Martinez, who could be back next year if she decides to use her extra year of eligibility, led Arizona in rebounds with 13. She added eight points, three assists, a block, and two steals.

Shaina Pellington had 13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals in her final game as a Wildcat.

As a team, Arizona turned the ball over 18 times.

It was the last game Barnes will coach Reese and Pellington after five and four years in the program, respectively. She looked back on that with some pride in how they changed on and off the court.

“I think I saw [Pellington] happy the last couple years,” Barnes said. “She wasn’t happy when she first came. She didn’t love basketball, so I think she found her passion back. So as a coach, I’m happy to say that and she’s getting a degree, so she was not going to be on my clock and not got a degree, and she did that. I think she accomplished a lot of things. She has a lot of basketball ahead of her and I think that she’s ready to play now.”

Pellington backed that up.

“I was a transfer from Oklahoma, came from a tough situation,” she said. “Adia is one of the ones that took a chance on me and it’s something that I’ll forever be grateful for. I feel like I developed a lot as a player but most importantly as a person and I do owe a lot to Adia and the coaching staff and just the environment in Tucson, and I do want to say thank you for everybody that was patient with me and encouraged my progress. That’s something I’m never going to forget.”

Reese, Arizona’s first McDonald’s All-American to play on the women’s side, was part of the rebuild of the program and a WNIT title. She, Pellington, Pueyo and Madi Conner were part of a one-point loss in the final game of the 2021 NCAA Women’s Championship. She also said it was the first time she had to learn to do things for herself.

“Cate took a chance on Arizona when we were awful,” Barnes said. “We were probably 300 in RPI. We weren’t a winning program. I’m sure she scratched her head when she watched us win six games that year. But she decided to come to Arizona and she wanted to do something special with us and she’s done that. She built the program with us. She’s meaningful. She learned to lead. She learned how to do laundry and stuff. I’m proud of her.”

As one door closes, another opens for both Pellington and Reese.

“I have learned so much as a player, as an athlete,” Reese said. “I learned how to be a leader. I watched Aari [McDonald] be a great leader and then was able to step into that position myself the last couple years. I learned how to be mentally tough, getting over injuries. Last year was extremely hard. I think I’ll be able to cherish my five years at Arizona for the rest of my life, but I don’t think the chapter is necessarily over for basketball for Shaina or I. Obviously, we have a future ahead of us. We want to go play pro. We want to go overseas or whatever it is. I think that our chapter ends here with Arizona but obviously we’re alum and we’re going to always be around Arizona, come back when we can. Yeah, I mean, we grew up here.”