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Arizona sets defensive records in blowout win over UC Riverside

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 29 Women’s UC Riverside at Arizona

Playing a day after Thanksgiving isn’t always ideal. Lethargy has been known to sneak up on more than one team. That might have been a problem for the Arizona Wildcats, but only for about 3.5 minutes.

The Wildcats pulled things together quickly and ran away with a 70-27 victory over the UC Riverside Highlanders in front of 4,417 fans.

“We always want to punch first,” senior guard Lucia Alonso said.

The big question was whether the Wildcats would hold the Highlanders to the fewest points by an opponent in program history. They didn’t quite match the 16 points they gave up to NAU in 1974, but they did set the record for the fewest given up in the modern era (beginning in 1977-78).

Arizona also held UC Riverside to the fewest field goals by an opponent. The Highlanders connected on just nine field goals in the game, two fewer than the Wildcats gave up to South Carolina State last season.

That defensive effort is something that Arizona coach Adia Barnes wants to be second nature for her players.

“I think that’s something that I shouldn’t have to spark,” she said. “They have to do that every day. I think being a starter that’s the expectation, the standard in the program, but we have some really solid defensive players in our starting lineup.”

A bit of a slow start by Arizona had UC Riverside with the 6-5 lead at the 6:39 mark in the first quarter. It didn’t last. The Wildcats woke up and the Highlanders had no response.

A flurry of steals and the Wildcats were up 13-6 just a minute later. UC Riverside wouldn’t score again in the quarter as Arizona ran out to a 22-6 lead.

Things didn’t get better for the Highlanders. The Wildcats held them to six points again in the second quarter, then just two in the third. UC Riverside finally broke into double digits with a 13-point fourth.

Barnes subbed liberally. Every one of her 13 healthy, eligible players got on the court. Eleven of them put points on the board

McDonald led all scorers with 14 points on 67 percent shooting, but freshman guard Mara Mote had the breakout game. Mote scored a career high 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting. All four of her shots came from behind the 3-point line. Mote also had two steals in her 16 minutes on the court.

The rest of the defense was furiously stealing the ball, as well. The Wildcats had 15 steals on the day led by Thomas with five. McDonald added four more.

“If you look at Aari, she’s one of the best players in the country that changes the game on both sides before which is very rare. Defensively she’s our catalyst,” Barnes said. “And then Sam Thomas. Sam Thomas, her long arms and good timing. She finds a way to get deflections that I don’t even know how she does that.... then Helena (Pueyo) comes in and does some great things. So, I thought overall solid. And you know, (Cate Reese’s) improved so much defensively. So she’s guarding some good players and Dominique (McBryde) always does her things and she does what she does well.”

On the offensive end, the team was able to find the open shooter with regularity. As a team, they shot 47.5 percent and dished out 16 assists. Alonso led the Wildcats with five dimes.

Arizona will next be in action against Monmouth on Monday, Dec. 2 at 6:30 p.m. MST.