There have been a lot of firsts for the Arizona Wildcats under Adia Barnes.
Check another one off the list.
No. 18 Arizona blew out Tennessee State 77-42 on Thursday in front of 3,891 to improve to 10-0 for the first time in program history.
It hasn’t been all that difficult. All 10 wins have been by double figures and an average of 31.3 points.
“I’m really happy I truly am because we talk a lot about leaving a legacy and this is how you do it,” Barnes said. “And I also reminded (our players) we were 9-0 two times when I was here in college and never 10-0. But it shows that their hard work and what they’re aspiring to do, that they’re starting to do that. ... That’s really big for the program considering where we were two years and the first year. It’s a drastic difference.”
Sophomore forward Cate Reese, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week, poured in a career-high 23 points Thursday, including 12 in the first quarter, helping the Wildcats build an early double-digit lead that they’d never relinquish.
“I think it’s just reflecting on how hard we’ve been working in the offseason and now just like the recruits that we’ve gotten that are helping us build the program up like Bryce (Nixon) and I came here to do,” Reese said of the 10-0 start.
Reese went 9 for 13 from the field and swished a pair of 3s. She toppled her previous career-high of 22 points late in the third quarter when she buried two free throws to put Arizona up 57-25.
“Cate’s been phenomenal,” Barnes said. “We don’t win the last couple games without Cate. She’s been efficient, she’s played strong, finishing with her right and left. She’s asserting herself from the beginning of the game. She is someone that we can throw the ball to inside where we’ll know score. She couldn’t do this year ago. You saw a glimpse of this in the WNIT but you didn’t see it consistently.”
UA’s defense, which entered No. 1 in the country in opponent field-goal percentage, was as disruptive as usual—except for the fourth quarter when it conceded 17 points.
Alternating between man and zone but never wavering with their ball pressure, the Wildcats held TSU (1-7) to 26 percent shooting and forced 23 turnovers, resulting in 24 points the other way.
“I thought in the fourth quarter, we gave up a lot of offensive rebounds, we weren’t disciplined guarding our areas and we weren’t down,” Barnes said. “We know that they’re drive-oriented, and we were letting them drive continuously and get offensive rebounds, so I was not happy how we played in the fourth quarter.”
Arizona was uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball too, committing 24 turnovers of their own. Aari McDonald had seven, all in the first half. The redshirt junior had 17 points (4-12 FG) and a game-high 12 rebounds, her second double-double of the season.
“Almost a triple-double!” Barnes joked of McDonald’s seven giveaways. “I want to tell her that, but I don’t think she’d think it’s too funny.
“She normally plays better and she never has seven turnovers but some of the passes, the intention is right, but the delivery’s bad. ... I felt like she was just a little rushed, but I thought she played better towards the end (of her night.)”
Arizona doubled up TSU on the glass (48-24) and outscored them 40-14 in the paint.
“Each week we’re kind of focusing on something different, one of our weaknesses,” Nixon said. “This week was boxing out, so I think this game until the fourth quarter was a pretty good representation of how we’ve been focusing on it.”
The Wildcats shot 50 percent from the field but just 17-of-25 from the free-throw line.
“They’re probably thinking about their final (exams) tomorrow,” Barnes quipped. “I just think there was a lack of focus. And I saw some of that lack of focus at our shootaround today. So it just carries over. I think you practice how you play. Those little things matter. If we have 24 turnovers in the Pac-12, we won’t win games. So I think those little things we have to get better at.”
Getting healthy will help. Dominique McBryde (ankle), Tee Tee Starks (shoulder), and Sevval Gül (concussion) all remain out with injuries. Mara Mote (ankle) didn’t play Thursday, either.
McBryde, a starter, is expected to return by the start of Pac-12 play in late December. The others are day-to-day.
“We miss her tremendously,” Barnes said. “There’s so many things that she does that don’t show up on the stat sheet. That’s telling a freshman where to go, that’s setting a good screen, that’s making the right decision with the ball. I guarantee we don’t take as many quick shots today if she was running in the offense because she’s going to find the right shot.”
McBryde and the Wildcats have plenty of time to heal, as they are off for nine days before they host UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 21 to wrap up the non-conference season.
Arizona then kicks off conference play on the road at Arizona State, USC, and No. 10 UCLA before a highly-anticipated homestand against No. 4 Oregon State and No. 3 Oregon.
“I’m looking big picture to be ready for the Pac-12,” Barnes said, “because Pac-12’s gonna come fast.”