Fresh off their first appearance in the top 20 of the AP poll since 2003, the Arizona Wildcats (8-0) took the court against the Monmouth Hawks (1-5). In games like this, the hope is to get the victory, get some experience and emerge without injuries. Arizona could only accomplish two out of three.
The Wildcats got the 86-34 victory. All of their available players got into the game. As for injuries, they came into the game with two. They ended with four.
Neither team looked ready to start the game. The Wildcats held the Hawks to 28.6 percent shooting in the first quarter, but were only able to connect on 31.6 percent of their own shots. Arizona also wasn’t as strong on defense as their coach would like.
“Things that were glaring in the first quarter were not following shooters and then paying for it with a 3,” Adia Barnes said. “Offensive rebounds. You know, first half, (Alexa) Middleton, (number) 22, killed us. She had four offensive rebounds. So those are the things that I don’t like because our posts, they don’t seem to like to box out.”
Another problem for the Wildcats was that they were losing players quickly. Senior forward Tee Tee Starks hasn’t played all year, but Arizona also started without forward Sevval Gül. The freshman has averaged 9.5 minutes off the bench as one of the Wildcats’ primary reserves, but stayed home Monday night after sustaining a concussion in practice over the weekend.
Aari McDonald picked up her second foul halfway through the first period, but Arizona has plenty of depth at the guard position this season.
Then, Mara Mote came in with just 90 seconds to go in the opening quarter. Thirty seconds later, she was being taken off the court with an ankle injury. She did not return to the game, leaving the Wildcats without one of their primary ballhandlers off the bench.
Arizona settled down in the second quarter. They allowed the Hawks to score just three points on 9.1 percent shooting and built a 41-13 lead.
The injuries didn’t stop, though. With just over four minutes to go in the half, Dominique McBryde went to the floor under the south basket. She didn’t get up.
McBryde had to be helped off the court and to the locker room. She returned to the bench on crutches after halftime.
“We know we have to play for her,” Semaj Smith said, “because she is one of the players that we need. So we know we have to pick up our intensity and play better.”
Smith definitely picked up her intensity and played better. With the senior starter out, Smith rose to the occasion with a career-high 15 points—her first college game in double digits.
“My teammates trusting me, feeding me the ball even after I missed some chippies,” she said when asked what was working for her against the Hawks. “The confidence that they gave me.”
The Hawks picked up their shooting in the second half, but it wasn’t enough. Despite being depleted by injuries, the Wildcats just kept pulling away. Arizona shot 80 percent in the fourth quarter including 4-for-4 from 3.
In addition to Smith, the Wildcats had four other players in double figures. McDonald led all scorers with 19. Cate Reese had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Helena Pueyo also put up a career high with 15 points, and Sam Thomas contributed 10.
Bryce Nixon got the opportunity to play point guard and made the most of it. She led the Wildcats with five assists in just under 16 minutes of play.
“I’m trying to get Bryce experience at the one,” Barnes said. “I think it it can help earn her more minutes.”
Barnes hopes to have McBryde, Mote and Gül back quickly. If they aren’t able to return this week, the team will face UTEP on Saturday, Dec. 7 without them.