The Loyola Marymount Lions are no strangers to victories over major conference teams. They opened their season with a 69-63 win over the UCLA Bruins at home. Last season, they took a 84-70 match-up against Arizona also at home. Could they do it on the road?
The Lions looked up to the task from the opening jump. The question would be whether they could hold it until the end.
They did, but just barely, hanging on for a 66-64 win.
After leading by double digits for the bulk of the game, the Lions almost let it slip through their fingers. A furious comeback attempt down the stretch put the Wildcats within a single possession several times.
With 2:55 left in the game, Arizona put together a run of seven points to cut the lead to five. With 1:02 to go, a run of six closed the lead to a single point.
They just couldn’t recover from the hole they had dug for themselves, wasting several chances to tie by taking quick three-point shots that clanged off the iron.
LMU outscored Arizona 20-9 in the first quarter, with the Wildcats shooting 1-12 from the floor. The lone Wildcat to hit a field goal was Bryce Nixon, whose three at 6:01 gave her team a 5-4 lead.
“We couldn’t make a shot,” coach Adia Barnes said. “I thought we were just really soft tonight. We had a tough time making a post move. And, you know, they don’t have a lot of height inside, they’re very strong inside. We were taller, but we were taking fade away jumpers. I don’t know why we weren’t asserting ourselves inside.”
Arizona came out strong in the early seconds of the second half. A three-point shot by Dominique McBryde. Two layups and a free throw by Aari McDonald. All of a sudden, the twelve-point lead had been cut in half.
The Wildcats couldn’t hold it, though. LMU was able to counter every run by Arizona through most of the game, taking everyone except McDonald out of rhythm and out of the game.
“I thought that they were really aggressive,” Barnes said. “I thought they were very physical on purpose with us. So, I felt like when Dominique (McBryde) got the ball, they were extremely physical. When Cate (Reese) got the ball, they were really physical. We could not finish a post shot.”
McDonald tried to put her team on her back.
“I would say the second quarter,” she replied to a question about when she realized that she had to be the one to step up. “I saw that we were low on energy, and I took it upon myself to get my teammates together, just try to be a leader out there.”
The point guard was the only Wildcat to score in double digits, putting up a career high 39 points, including going 20-23 from the free throw line. Her 39 points tied the Arizona record for a single game.
“Never,” McDonald responded when asked if she’d played in a game where she shot 23 free throws before.
As had been the case in their opening game and both exhibitions, Arizona had difficulty taking care of the ball. By three minutes in, they already had three turnovers. They would end the night with 18.
Fouls also haunted the Wildcats again. In the opener, McBryde played through foul trouble all night and Cate Reese fouled out. Against LMU, it was Sam Thomas who racked up three fouls before half-time.
Neither of those things concerned Barnes as much as the lack of rebounding and the inability to make shots, though.
“For me, it wasn’t so much turnovers as it was offensive rebounds in the first half,” Barnes said.
“We need to have three, four, five people in double digits, and we have the personnel to,” she continued. “But the other starters combined were (9-38). So, you’re not going to win games like that. You’re just not.”