The 3-point shots weren’t falling. The depth was missing. Still, the No. 20 Arizona Wildcats were able to overcome and pull out their ninth victory of the season. Cate Reese was too much for the UTEP Miners (7-2) to handle as the Wildcats improved to 9-0 on the season with a 54-43 victory on Saturday. It was Arizona’s lowest point total of the season.
The Wildcats took the court at the Haskins Center knowing that they were going to be thin inside. Senior starter Dominique McBryde is out with an ankle injury that will likely keep her sidelined for the next two weeks. Freshman reserve Sevval Gül has a concussion. Her return date is unknown.
On the wings, Arizona was without both Mara Mote and Helena Pueyo. Mote hurt her ankle against Monmouth on Monday night and was limited in practice this week. That left the Wildcats without one of their primary ballhandlers and one of their best 3-point shooters.
A team that usually plays 12 or 13 players was reduced to just nine. All four of the missing are either starters or key reserves.
Reese rose to the occasion, contributing a double-double with 19 points and a season-high 17 rebounds. She was just one board short of her career high set last year against Montana. On what was a poor shooting day for many of the Wildcats, Reese was an exception. She went 8-for-13 from the field and added an assist, three blocks and a steal.
Arizona’s star sophomore had 14 of the Wildcats’ 33 points in the first half as the Miners tried to stop Aari McDonald. McDonald still had nine points. She would end the day with 13 points, 5 rebounds, an assist and three steals.
Sam Thomas also hit double digits with 12 points. She added six rebounds, an assist, three blocks and a steal.
There were definitely problems for the Wildcats, though—especially on offense. That could be attributed to the Miners’ defense.
Arizona shot 44.1 percent over the first 20 minutes, but went 21.7 percent from the field in the second half. That was largely due to 1-for-9 shooting from distance, which was to be expected.
UTEP has held opponents to 19.8 percent shooting from the 3-point line this season. That puts the Miners third in the nation in opponents' 3-point shooting percentage. They also turn their opponents over 21.6 times per game, good for No. 23 in the country.
Their effort against the Wildcats lived up to those numbers. In fact, they surpassed those numbers against the No. 20 team in the country.
Arizona went 1-for-14 from beyond the arc without Pueyo and Mote. Senior Lucia Alonso was the only Wildcat to connect from outside.
The Wildcats also turned the ball over 23 times. McDonald had seven of those turnovers and Reese added six more.
Arizona still built a 18-point lead at the end of the first half as UTEP connected on just one field goal and one free throw for three points in the second quarter. The Wildcats would push that lead out to 19 with 90 seconds to go in the third.
The Miners were able to cut into the lead in the final 10 minutes of the game. They sliced the Wildcat lead to just nine points with 3:03 left in the game.
It was too little too late. Arizona didn’t let UTEP get any closer, holding out for their smallest margin of victory this season with an 11-point final advantage.
The Wildcats will return home for their final two games of the non-conference season. They take the floor next on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m. MST when they host Tennessee State.