The Arizona Wildcats entered Monday night’s game with the expectation that they would extend their seven-game winning streak. They accomplished that easily against the now 2-8 UTEP Miners. More importantly, they needed to continue polishing their game in the final two contests before Pac-12 play. Arizona coach Adia Barnes wasn’t so sure they did that in the 62-40 victory.
“The spots that I didn’t like, the low points in the game, was our rebounding,” Barnes said. “Giving up offensive rebounds in the third quarter. Not executing. Kind of stalling the ball, keeping it in our hands. I thought those things were things we did not do a good job of tonight. And we didn’t do a good job of valuing the ball in the first half.”
Arizona was out-rebounded by the Miners 30-28. UTEP only has three players who stand six feet or taller, yet the Wildcats still couldn’t win the boards.
The first half started like a typical Arizona women’s game. The Wildcats’ backcourt dominated the scoring, with Aari McDonald and Lucia Alonso leading the way with four points apiece over the first ten minutes.
The starting guards accounted for 25 of the team’s 38 first-half points as McDonald put up 12 and Alonso led all scorers with 13. They weren’t able to maintain that for a full 40 minutes, though. McDonald ending the game at 15 points, scoring only three after halftime. Alonso did not score in the final 20 minutes.
Fortunately, McDonald and Alonso were able to find open teammates. McDonald had a career-high nine assists, well above her season average of 3.78 per game. Alonso dished out four, also exceeding her 3.33 per game average. As a team, the Wildcats had 20 assists on 25 made shots.
“Our positives. The assist-to-turnover ration,” Barnes said. “Twenty assists to nine turnovers. That’s a good stat that I really like.”
Those assists helped create a balanced effort. Four Wildcats ended up with double-digit points, which is something Barnes has repeatedly said she expects.
“We have ten players that can play and contribute,” Barnes said. “And we have a solid rotation. We always talk about that third player that needs to score. It can’t just be Aari. It can’t just be Cate (Reese). It needs to be Sam (Thomas), Dominique (McBryde). So, I like that. I like when we have four players in double digits. That’s a really good thing. That’s balance to me, and we won’t win long term if we don’t have that.”
Thomas and McBryde lived up to their coach’s expectations.
Thomas added her usual all-around stats, putting together her third straight game in double figures. She ended the game with 14 points, four rebounds, three assists, four steals and a block. She was joined in double digits by McBryde, who contributed 10 points, three rebounds, a steal and a block.
The entire team was hitting from outside in the early going. They shot almost 50% from beyond the arc over the opening 20 minutes. As the first half wound down, Alonso, Thomas and McDonald combined for four straight three-pointers.
It just didn’t last. Arizona would go 1-for-11 from three in the second half.
The Wildcats were helped by the fact that UTEP had difficulty holding onto the ball. The Miners turned it over eight times in the first ten minutes. By the end of the first half, that had almost doubled to 15 turnovers, including eight Arizona steals. The Wildcats converted them into 15 points. When the game ended, Arizona had added eight more points off turnovers and five more steals.
As Barnes mentioned, though, Arizona also struggled with turnovers in the opening half. The Wildcats gave the ball away seven times in the opening 20 minutes.
Barnes said that it was a point of emphasis at half-time. It semed to work, as the Wildcats cut the giveaways down to two in the last half.
“This is a hard week,” Barnes said. “It’s right after finals. Mentally, physically. It’s the last week before you go home. So, this is always a tough week, and I think Friday’s going to be even more difficult because they’re leaving on vacation the next day. So, it was really important to get this win no matter how ugly it was. And it’s really important to focus on Friday, because it’ll be a long break if that ended up being a loss.”
To see that it isn’t a long break and that they are ready to face ASU at the end of the month, Barnes stressed that they need to focus on crucial improvements: taking care of the ball, boxing out and cutting down on “silly fouls.”
“There are things we need to improve on,” she said. “We have to get better before we play ASU.”
Their last chance to do that in a game will come Friday, Dec. 21 against NAU. Tip-off is at 6:30 p.m. MST at McKale Center. The Wildcats will be celebrating the 127th birthday of the game of basketball with the help of James Naismith’s great-granddaughter.
Hear what Adia Barnes had to say after Arizona Women's Basketball’s win over UTEPPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Monday, December 17, 2018