With the holiday break on the way, the Arizona Wildcats (8-1) got their final road test before the Pac-12 season starts. They didn’t waste time taking control against Long Beach State (1-9).
Aari McDonald opened the scoring with a three-pointer, sparking a 14-0 run to open the game. The 49ers were unable to find any points until Syndney Bordonaro hit two free throws almost halfway through the opening period. Their first field goal didn’t come until Bordonaro hit a three-pointer at 4:45 in the quarter.
The Wildcats were paced by Sam Thomas in the opening half. Thomas had nine points to go along with an assist and a block, but was only able to stay on the floor for seven minutes. Like several of her teammates, she struggled with early foul trouble.
Thomas and Cate Reese both picked up two fouls in the first half, with their second fouls being called back-to-back about halfway through the first quarter. Aari McDonald was whistled for her third with 2:41 left in the opening quarter.
Foul trouble has been a recurring problem for Arizona in the non-conference season, and this game was no exception. McDonald joined Thomas in only playing seven minutes in the first half, and Reese was limited to five.
It didn’t stop the team from building a double-digit lead, but it did impact their efficiency. The Wildcats opened the game shooting 47% from the field in the first 10 minutes, including a 43% mark from distance. In the second quarter, that fell to 37.5% from the field and 17% from beyond the arc.
After the game, Arizona coach Adia Barnes praised the players who came in and provided valuable minutes while three starters sat with fouls. Destiny Graham was one of those players.
Graham returned to action after missing the previous four games with a concussion. She trailed only Thomas in the first half, accounting for eight points in 12 minutes.
Despite having three starters on the bench, the Wildcats extended their lead to as many as 17 points in the first half. They headed into the locker room with a 35-22 lead.
The team started the second half with McDonald still on the bench. After the game, Barnes told IMG Arizona Radio that she didn’t want to risk an early fourth foul. She also wanted to see how her team would respond to being forced to play without their leading scorer. She praised their ability to succeed under the adversity.
With McDonald on the bench, LBSU was able to close the Wildcats’ lead to five points at 35-30. After Dominique McBryde extended the lead to 37-30 on two free throws, Barnes had seen enough without her starting point guard. McDonald re-entered the game with just over seven minutes to go in the third quarter.
The Wildcats asserted themselves once McDonald returned to the floor. A 7-0 run stretching over the next three-and-a-half minutes pushed the lead back to double digits. At the end of 30 minutes, Arizona had their largest lead of the game, going ahead of the 49ers by a score of 55-36.
The final 10 minutes were a mere formality. Arizona held Long Beach State to just seven points, easily closing out the 70-43 victory.
Every Wildcat got into the scoring column, and all but one played double-digit minutes. McDonald led the team in scoring yet again, putting up 17 points in 21 minutes of play. She made five of her 14 shot attempts and picked up five rebounds.
Thomas had a season-high 16 points in just 23 minutes. It was her second straight game scoring in double digits after scoring ten or more points only once in the previous seven contests. She went 6-for-9 from the field, including making two of her three attempts from beyond the arc.
Jasmine Hardy led the 49ers with 15 points on 50% shooting. No other LBSU player scored in double digits, although Bordonaro came close with eight points.
The Wildcats return to McKale Center for the final two games before the holiday break. They will face UTEP on Monday, Dec. 17 at 6:30 p.m. Then, they will wind up the non-conference schedule by hosting Northern Arizona on Friday, Dec. 21.