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Arizona uses swarming defense to beat in North Dakota in season opener

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 5 Women’s North Dakota at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Desert Swarm moniker is usually reserved for Arizona football, but it is an apt description of the way the women’s basketball team defended Tuesday, which just so happened to be 90s Night in McKale Center.

UA’s full-court press forced 27 turnovers and held North Dakota to 28 percent shooting in a 74-42 victory in front of 3,450 fans, the most ever at an Arizona women’s basketball season opener.

“Coach Adia (Barnes) has really emphasized that we just want to attack, or kill as we say, as a team whether that be offensively or defensively,” said UA forward Dominique McBryde. “We were kind of struggling on the offensive end for a little bit, but we picked it up on defense and we were just getting in their grill and doing what we can to frustrate them.”

Despite the gaudy numbers, the defense was actually too jumpy for Barnes’ liking.

“I thought we played good defense at times but then I thought that we were very reactive,” she said. “Like jumping for a lot of things, bailing them out. We put them on the line 19 times. ... I think when a team has four guards...we have to stay down because they’re going to dribble-attack us. So we have to get better in that area for sure.”

While five players made their UA debuts, including Penn State grad transfer Amari Carter who started in place of the injured Tee Tee Starks, it was a familiar face who stole the show.

Celebrating her 20th birthday, sophomore Cate Reese poured in a career-high 22 points, six rebounds and five steals. She went 10 for 20 from the field, with all her attempts coming inside the 3-point line.

“She was fierce and she was hungry and probably a little bit more motivated because she didn’t play in the exhibition (last week),” Barnes said. “But she’s improved, she’s a lot stronger, she’s finishing (better). Now she only falls on the floor like three times a game instead of 12.”

Fourteen of Reese’s points were scored in the second half. At the break, Barnes told her team that “the ball needs to touch the post.”

“They were kind of weak on the hedge and I was just rolling and getting the ball, so it really was just my teammates finding me,” Reese said.

Aari McDonald chipped in with 13 points (on 16 shots) to go along with five assists and four rebounds. Sam Thomas went 3 for 3 from behind the arc, which accounted for nine of her 11 points.

Freshman Helena Pueyo had eight points, including a pair of triples, which Barnes said are “like layups” for the Spaniard.

Carter and freshmen Mara Mote and Tara Manumaleuga made one field goal apiece. Freshman post Sevval Gül committed four fouls and three turnovers in eight minutes, what Barnes described as “not a good night.”

Birna Benonysdottir was the only newcomer to not enter the game.

“Overall, I think it’s what I expected,” Barnes said of the newcomers. “They’re freshmen so they’re going to be inconsistent.”

UA shot the 3 well in its exhibition vs. Eastern New Mexico last week, an area the team needs to improve this season, and went 8 for 23 (35%) from the arc Tuesday, though they were 2 for 16 if you exclude Thomas and Pueyo.

Barnes said Arizona’s shot selection was “very, very poor,” lamenting that her team only made three trips to the free-throw line.

“I thought a lot of times we settled for a 3 when the 3 wasn’t there,” she said. “I thought we took very quick 3-point shots, which led to awful transition defense.”

Awful transition defense that included “buddy running.”

“Like when you’re running next to your pal and you’re not getting back and protecting the basket,” Barnes said. “We did a lot of that tonight and it’s gonna make me sick on film.”

Overall, Arizona shot 44 percent with a 44-16 edge in points in the paint. The Wildcats narrowly outrebounded UND, 40-39, another disappointing number.

“We just didn’t box out at times and some of that is it’s the first game and I’m playing a lot of combinations,” Barnes said. “But I’m trying to find some trends with I think that will clean up a little.”

There were two stats that Barnes did like: The 3,450 fans and Arizona’s 4-0 record in season-openers since she became the head coach.

“It tells me we’re moving in the right direction,” she said. “I think for me the most fun is the climb, getting to the top and getting better. So I don’t look at it as pressure. I think it’s a fun challenge and that’s awesome.”