For three quarters, the Arizona Wildcats couldn’t buy a 3-point basket. They went 13.3 percent from outside for the first 30 minutes of the game. They took too many and missed a ton.
Then, the fourth quarter happened. After trailing through three quarters, the Wildcats defeated Santa Clara 65-52 in front of 4,225,
The Wildcats went 4 for 6 from distance over the final period sparked by a Dominique McBryde make at the 7:56 mark. Next up was Sam Thomas, then Thomas again, and, finally, Lucia Alonso. A one-point lead turned into a nine-point lead, and Arizona was off to a victory.
That victory looked none too certain just a few minutes prior.
Arizona came out strong in the first quarter. They scored 20 points on 57.1 percent shooting. They went to the line four times after only shooting three free throws in the their opening game against North Dakota.
They had two issues: fouls and poor perimeter shooting. Those problems didn’t go away for most of the game.
The second quarter was a disaster for the Wildcats. They scored just four points and went 1 for 10 from the field while jacking up seven 3s. No one not named Stanford or Oregon held them to so few points in a quarter last season.
Meanwhile, the Broncos had settled down. They also no longer had to deal with either Cate Reese or McBryde, who were on the bench with two fouls each.
After going 3-10 in the first quarter, Santa Clara was 6-11 in the second, including a perfect 4-4 from outside. They looked primed to upset the Wildcats, much like Loyola Marymount did in their second game last season.
When the horn blew at the half, the Broncos were up 27-24, but the Wildcats didn’t let the poor quarter derail them.
“Bad,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said about the second quarter. “I don’t know what it was. I felt like we weren’t containing them. Just letting them kind of do whatever. Bad offense. Really stagnant on offense. But the good thing is the third quarter happened—well, the third quarter wasn’t great either—the fourth quarter. But I thought we showed resiliency. They really attacked us and they isolated us and their offensive rebounding. I thought we did a lot better job in the second half. Boxing out a little better, just a little tougher inside, and just better containing our players on defense.”
As Barnes noted, Santa Clara remained steady in the third. They started getting the ball inside. For the second straight quarter they shot over 54 percent.
But the Wildcats stabilized late in the frame, chipping away at what had become an eight-point Broncos’ lead. Still, Santa Clara maintained their three-point lead when the first 30 minutes were over.
“We were just thinking just to stay together,” Aari McDonald said. “And that it starts on the defensive end. And so, honestly, last year would have been like a total...like, we look defeated, but I’m so proud of this team how we stuck together and we buckled down. We got key stops and we scored, so I’m really proud of the team for not giving up.”
Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that it all came together when a very familiar group hit the floor together. McDonald, Reese, Alonso, McBryde, Thomas. The group that began last year as the starting quintet.
McDonald did her drive-and-get-fouled thing. Thomas did her stuff-the-stat-sheet thing. Reese grabbed boards and got inside. McBryde and Alonso hit 3s. The Wildcats held the Broncos to six points in the final quarter and ran away with a 13-point victory.
McDonald led all scorers with 20 points. She added five assists, five rebounds, and two steaals. Thomas constributed 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three blocks, and a steal.
In the end, their coach was happy for both the victory and the experience the team gained.
“Santa Clara is a really good team,” Barnes said. “I think they’re going to beat a lot of people. I think they’re gonna have a good year. They’re solid in there. They have a veteran team. They have shooters, they have good inside and outside game. They have a really good point guard. So I think they’re a good team, and I think this was a good game for us.”
Next week, the Wildcats will travel to Chicago State before playing No. 15 Texas in Austin.