On the 127th birthday of basketball, the Arizona women’s basketball team had a party, routing NAU 71-47 on Friday in their non-conference finale.
It was a who’s who of basketball past and present. Arizona hosted Margaret Naismith Jonker, the great-granddaughter of basketball’s inventor, who has been in Tucson for the past few days promoting women’s participation in the game. She was joined by local celebrities and dignitaries, including Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Lute Olson, Sean Miller and the Arizona men’s basketball team.
While UA gave Ms. Jonker a warm welcome, NAU was uncomfortable for 40 minutes, as the Wildcats successfully avenged last season’s 18-point road loss to the Lumberjacks.
“I knew that we wanted to get revenge,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “We had no chance last year. I thought that they just put us away and kind of embarrassed us.”
Arizona returned the favor on Friday, thanks to three players who didn’t play in last season’s loss.
After scoring six or fewer points in three of the last four games, freshman Cate Reese led the way with 21 points, eight rebounds, four blocks, two steals and an assist.
Dominique McBryde, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, led all scorers at halftime with 12 points. She didn’t add to that total in the second half, but ended with five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal.
Fellow transfer Aari McDonald, the nation’s third leading scorer, showed why she is a nightmare for opponents. Not only did she put up 20 points, she also had eight rebounds, two assists and three steals.
The defensive results were especially gratifying for McDonald. Arizona used a suffocating press to force 22 turnovers and hold the Lumberjacks to 32 percent shooting.
“It was really fun,” McDonald said. “Coming in, they were talking smack. So when we were locking them down on the press, it just felt good. That was basically our talking back to them. Just get the ball and just scoring.”
Barnes wasn’t completely happy with the way her team played, saying that the team tends to lose focus and lack discipline. However, she has been pleased with the way the Wildcats improved throughout non-conference play.
“I thought it was a little bit ugly, but I think we did some really good things, she said. “I think we played probably 25 minutes of good basketball. The bright spots were our press tonight. The low points were the rebounding tonight, just losing focus at times.
“I’m happy with our overall progression in the non-conference. Each game, we got better. If you look at us a month ago, we weren’t nearly as complete as we are now.”
The Wildcats will take a brief Christmas break, then begin conference play when they return. The Pac-12 is the top-ranked league in the country, so Barnes knows there is a tough road ahead.
“We’re not a league that’s up and coming, we’re a league that’s there,” she said. “And I think we’ve shown in the non-conference how strong this league is. So that’s great to see and it’s great to be a part of, but it’s hard to move up. We were chosen to place tenth. It is hard to get to nine, eight, seven, six. It’s a process.”
Arizona only won two conference games last season, but Barnes believes the Wildcats “can surprise some people” this season. They are off to their best start since 2011-12 and brimming with confidence, having won nine straight games.
“Just from the beginning to now, I think that we’ve improved tremendously and I think that the sky’s the limit for us,” McBryde said. “We still have a lot to get better on and work on as well and to prepare for ASU.”
Arizona Women's Basketball beat NAU to wrap up nonconference play with a 10-1 record. Here’s what Adia Barnes had to say about the win and what’s ahead for the Wildcats.Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, December 21, 2018
Aari McDonald and Dominique McBryde
Aari McDonald and Dominique McBryde on Arizona Women's Basketball’s win vs. NAU and what’s ahead for the Wildcats in Pac-12 playPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, December 21, 2018