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What we learned from Arizona’s win over No. 24 Cal

Photo by Simon Asher

The Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball team upset No. 24 Cal on Friday to improve to 13-2 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12.

Our recap can be read here, and here are some additional postgame notes:

The importance of Cate Reese

Cate Reese has spent a considerable amount of Pac-12 play in foul trouble, which has kept her from getting into a groove on either end of the floor. The star freshman found her footing against the Golden Bears and their senior post player, Kristine Anigwe.

Reese has averaged 2.7 points and 3.3 rebounds while only seeing 18.3 minutes of action per game in Pac-12 play. While it’s a small sample size, it was enough to drop her season scoring average by almost three points per game.

In her fourth Pac-12 game, Reese looked much more like the player from the non-conference slate. She was able to stay on the floor for 29 minutes despite having to come out for a few minutes due to an apparent hand injury.

Her 10 points were second to only Aari McDonald, and Reese led the team with nine rebounds. She added two blocks and a steal, and led the team with a +12 plus/minus.

Need a bucket? Look for Aari.

Arizona led comfortably throughout the first half. After the break, though, Cal was able to reel the Wildcats back in. As she has throughout the season, McDonald was there to answer the bell when the Wildcats really needed a bucket. Whether driving to the bucket or pulling up for 3, McDonald had the answer when Cal got too close.

“If you watch Aari, she is called upon to score, but she’s not a score-first point guard,” coach Adia Barnes said. “She is a pass-first. That’s just how she is. If you watched her at Washington. If you watched her when she was in high school. But here we need her to score.”

McDonald has a 28 percent assist rate this season. So, despite sharing lead guard duties with Lucia Alonso, she’s still assisting on over a quarter of her teammates’ made baskets when she’s on the floor.

It was the third straight game with over 30 points for the point guard and her fourth this season. Arizona has needed those points every time, but the unbalanced scoring is a bit of a concern for Barnes.

“It’s not ideal for a player to have half your points,” Barnes said. “You need more balance.”

On a positive note, Barnes noted that McDonald got her 36 points off just 17 shots.

It all flows from the defense

The Wildcats held the Golden Bears to a season-low 55 points while forcing 18 turnovers. Every player on the floor had active hands and feet resulting in nine steals and countless deflections.

Just as important as the steals was the interior team defense that limited the damage from Anigwe. While Anigwe still had 19 points and 20 rebounds, none of her stats came easy. Both Reese and Dominique McBryde were physical with her, while Sam Thomas and the guards helped with double and triple teams.

“I think we did a great job,” Barnes said. “It’s funny, because I look at the stat sheet, I’m like, ‘We did a great job! (Anigwe) had 19 and 20!’ But that’s how good she is...I thought we made her work. Still she had 20 rebounds, 19 points, but I thought she worked pretty hard for her points.”

Anigwe’s teammates were unable to make the Wildcats pay for the extra attention, especially from beyond the arc. The Golden Bears took 22 3-point shots, connecting on just 22.7 percent of them.

“We forced them to shoot 38 percent,” Barnes said. “Our goal was to give them 40 percent. Our goal was to hold them under 30 (percent) from 3. We did that. And our goal was to keep them under 60 points. So, we accomplished all the goals that we set.”

Confident ‘Cats

In almost every press conference, Barnes has stressed confidence as a key to success. She went back to that after the victory over the Golden Bears.

“Looking in their eyes, they were determined and knew that we could win,” she said of her team. “I didn’t see that in Utah, but I saw that look against ASU. So, Aari and Cate are competitors, and knowing we can win and having that confidence. I will go back to talk about the preseason, not playing all these ranked teams. We wouldn’t have this confidence if we would have (played ranked teams). Confidence, the mental part of the game, is 70 percent of the game. So, they did a great job of fighting tonight.”

The question is whether the Wildcats can show the same confidence against Stanford. The No. 6 Cardinal come to McKale Center on Sunday when Arizona will be looking to top their first top-10 opponent.