The weekend homestand was a mixed bag for the Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball team. A hard-fought 60-55 win over the No. 24 California Golden Bears was followed by an uncompetitive loss to No. 6 Stanford.
The setback against Stanford was disappointing because the Wildcats weren’t able to make anything happen on either end of the court. They were never in the game. Still, they emerged from the weekend with their second win over a ranked team, which was something no one outside the locker room really expected from them.
On Thursday, Arizona coach Adia Barnes called them “two games we’re not expected to win.” In fact, in our Pac-12 preview, I predicted the Wildcats would be 1-4 in conference at this point in the season. So, heading to Oregon with a 3-2 conference record is nothing to sneeze at.
Let’s find out what else we learned from the first two of four straight games the Wildcats play against ranked foes.
Is size the answer to stopping Aari McDonald?
Aari McDonald has been scorching defenses. At first, it was possible to write that off to playing lesser competition in the non-conference season. However, entering conference play hasn’t hurt her averages at all. Entering the game against Stanford, she was scoring 31.5 points per game in conference play.
Most teams have defended her in a fairly traditional way. They put a guard on her to stop the penetration. Stanford tried something different. They went with height on her, then packed the paint with their other interior players.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer put 6-foot, 1-inch forward Lacie Hull on the 5-foot, 7-inch McDonald for most of the night. McDonald had difficulty shooting over her. Once McDonald made it around Hull, she found three more trees in the paint. Having to fight size both on the perimeter and when she drove to the basket made her much less effective.
“They just made her work really hard,” Barnes said. “They had three people in the paint, and they forced her to shoot a lot of times into Alanna Smith’s hands.”
Smith cleaned up with seven blocks on the day.
Arizona is likely to face similar size issues against Oregon. Even their guards average 5-foot-10. Except for Destiny Slocum, Oregon State has tall guards, as well. Can they follow the Stanford blueprint?
Arizona still needs consistent second and third scorers
When discussing McDonald’s scoring after the Cal game, Barnes called it “not ideal” to have one player putting up half the team’s points. This has been a recurring issue for the Wildcats.
McDonald has to score because she isn’t getting consistent scoring support from the rest of the team. However, eventually someone was going to limit her effectiveness. Stanford found a way to do that, and the result was painful.
“A lot of times, if you saw other people cutting through the lanes, they weren’t even looking at them,” Barnes said of the Stanford defense. “They were just worried about Aari coming off stuff. That’s what’s going to happen. She was leading the country in scoring. She’s one of the best guards in the country. So, there’s going to be a lot of attention. We have to find a way to get two or three more people to score. We can’t be so stagnant, and we can’t take such quick shots.”
The Cardinal were able to put a forward on McDonald and pack the paint because Arizona isn’t getting points from anywhere else on the floor. Stanford could afford to take size off size and put it on the smaller McDonald. They didn’t have to put a similarly-sized Kiana Williams on the Arizona star.
The top 10 in women’s basketball is a whole different animal
The Wildcats have been able to compete with ranked teams outside the top 10, easily beating ASU when they were ranked No. 17 and holding off No. 24 Cal. Stanford showed that it’s a completely different task to go up against the elite in the women’s game.
Stanford was just the first in a string of three top-10 teams Arizona will face over the course of eight days. Next week, they travel to the state of Oregon to take on No. 5 Oregon and No. 10 Oregon State. Will the Wildcats be able to grow from the Stanford loss? That’s yet to be seen.
Arizona is more effective against a traditional post player
While Kristine Anigwe got her points against the Wildcats on Friday, Cal didn’t have the shooters to make Arizona pay for double- and triple-teaming her. In the two Pac-12 games that Arizona has lost, they have faced interior players who are effective from the perimeter, too.
Against Utah, the Wildcats faced Megan Huff, who shoots over 45 percent from beyond the arc. Stanford had Smith, who was 4 for 6 from outside against Arizona. Arizona didn’t have an answer for either, and lost big.