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Poor free throw shooting, rebounding doom Arizona in triple OT loss to UCLA

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Poor free-throw shooting and rebounding doomed the Arizona Wildcats Sunday as they were outlasted by the UCLA Bruins 98-93 in triple overtime.

The Bruins (11-9, 4-4) turned 27 offensive boards into 27 second-chance points, while the Wildcats went 11 for 27 from the charity stripe.

UA senior Destiny Graham missed two free throws that would have given UA a one-point lead with 1:42 left in third overtime period, then missed two more with 28 seconds left that would have tied it.

“We just have to do a better job of doing the things that are under our control,” said UA coach Adia Barnes. “41 percent from the free-throw line and 27 offensive rebounds, you don’t win games. Not in the Pac-12.”

It overshadowed a stellar effort by Aari McDonald, who finished with 35 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists. The star point guard extended the game by draining a 3 at the buzzer in double OT.

McDonald opened the third OT with her fourth triple, but UCLA responded with a 9-2 run, capped by a Kennedy Burke corner 3 to take a 93-89 lead with 1:26 left. McDonald knifed for a layup on UA’s next possession, but the Wildcats were unable to pull even from there.

“I liked the way my team fought, despite the outcome,” McDonald said. “We definitely have things to work on, but we definitely showed a lot of fight.”

The key play in triple OT transpired when Burke intercepted a pass and blew a breakaway layup, before Japreece Dean collected it, scored, and drew a foul for good measure. She then made the ensuing free throw to give the Bruins a 90-89 lead.

“After that we couldn’t catch up,” Barnes said. “That was the dagger.”

It is UCLA’s 12th straight win over the Wildcats, who fall to 14-6 overall and 4-5 in the Pac-12. Arizona was looking for its first sweep of the L.A. schools since 2004-05. The Wildcats face No. 16 ASU in Tempe on Friday.

“I’m just disappointed because it was a big weekend for us to be in a really good situation, but there are still a lot of games left and we’re still playing some pretty good basketball,” Barnes said.

UCLA sophomore Michaela Onyenwere thrashed the Wildcats for 28 points and 13 rebounds, coming up big in some of the game’s most critical moments.

Onyenwere made a putback with 3.2 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime, scored with 16 seconds left in the first overtime period to force double OT, then sank a jumper early in the second OT period to give the Bruins a five-point lead.

McDonald scored five straight points to erase it.

“She’s so athletic,” Barnes said of Onyenwere. “I thought a lot of times we were there, she just literally outmanned us, jumped over us, and got it. That was a focus for the game and that was a focus for her particularly. She only had 13 (offensive rebounds) but it felt like she had 40. We just couldn’t find a way to box her out and when we did, she still out-jumped us.”

Arizona got a balanced scoring effort for the second straight game. Sam Thomas had 17 points, Cate Reese had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Lucia Alonso added 14 of her own in her most extended action since twisting her ankle last Sunday against Oregon.

Alonso made a 3 to give UA a 61-59 lead with a minute left in regulation, before Onyenwere tied it in the final seconds.

The Bruins twice fouled McDonald on the ensuing inbounds pass to prevent her from attempting a game-winner. One of the fouls appeared to occur when McDonald was beginning her shooting motion, but the free throws were not awarded, much to the chagrin of UA’s coaching staff.

McDonald would get a chance to be the hero in the first overtime period, but her deep 3 clanked off the back iron as the buzzer sounded.

Sunday’s game was the first Pac-12 contest since 2000-01 to require three overtimes. Four different players, including McDonald and Starks, played more than 50 minutes.

While the Wildcats fell short, their effort didn’t go for naught.

“It’s not a situation where they should hang their heads,” Barnes said. “It’s a game where you learn, and we learned we have to do the little things or else you don’t win.”

Stolen play!

While scouting the Bruins this week, the UA coaching staff liked one of UCLA’s plays so much that it decided to use it against them Sunday.

It worked to perfection.

McDonald caught a pass from Graham on the wing after darting off a screen from Reese, and drained the game-tying 3 to force triple overtime.

“We took their play,” McDonald said, with a grin. “Coach Morgan (Valley) drew it up and we executed it. Destiny threw a good pass, I just knocked it down. Felt good.”

Postgame interviews

Adia Barnes

Hear what Adia Barnes had to say after Arizona Women's Basketball’s triple OT loss to UCLA on Sunday. Recap here:

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, January 27, 2019

Aari McDonald and Lucia Alonso