When Arizona and Utah met in Salt Lake City on Jan. 6, the loss embarrased the Wildcats. Their 66-55 victory over the Utes on Friday night not only exorcised the past, but gave the team hope for the future.
“We just wanted to come out and be as aggressive as possible,” junior forward Dominique McBryde said. “We were a little embarrassed the first game by them. We were down by at least 30 the first game, and came back and only lost by like 15. We wanted to come in and show them what we can do. Get this game, so we still have a chance at the tournament.”
Megan Huff came into Friday’s game averaging 20.2 points per game for Utah. Arizona coach Adia Barnes said the plan was to “make her work and struggle.”
“I thought as a team, we smothered her,” Barnes said. “We did a very good job defensively, and that started off with Dominique McBryde. She was aggressive on her, she wasn’t giving her open looks. She defended in screens well. She defended on-ball, pick-and-pops well. I’m really proud of her. She’s the one who started it, then everybody else helped out with that.”
The Wildcats shut Huff down, holding her to 6 points on 1-for-13 shooting. It was her lowest-scoring game all season and her first in single digits.
“Our first game (against Utah), our defensive intensity wasn’t really there, including my own” McBryde said. “I know what I’m capable of on defense, and I think just having the mentality to not let her through again, not let her get her averages or beyond that. And it was a team effort, too.”
Meanwhile, Aari McDonald was as prolific as ever for Arizona. The star guard went off for 26 points to lead all scorers. Her 10 rebounds gave her a double-double and tied her with Utah’s Dre’Una Edwards for the game high in that stat, too. McDonald added six assists, a steal and a block to her stat line.
McDonald has now scored 15 or more points in every contest this year.
Sam Thomas joined McDonald in double figures for the Wildcats. She finished the game with 14 points, two rebounds, an assist, two steals and four blocks.
Arizona’s defense keyed on Huff early. Led by McBryde, the Wildcats held her to two points in the first half and the Utes to 8-for-32 shooting.
After holding the Utes to 36.8 percent shooting in the first quarter, the Wildcats turned the screws tighter. The Wildcats gave up only five points in the second quarter. They allowed Utah to connect on only one field goal on a 7.7 percent shooting percentage.
The change from the teams’ first meeting was dramatic. Back in January, the Utes rushed out to a 25-point lead by shooting 76 percent in the first half. On Friday, the Wildcats held them to 25 percent shooting in the first half and 29.7 for the game.
Arizona went into the half with a 27-22 lead. Utah went on a seven-point streak to close it to one point midway through the third quarter, but were unable to take a lead over the final 20 minutes.
The Wildcats shot 46 percent for the game, including going 6 for 17 from beyond the arc.
Arizona will go for the weekend sweep when they face Colorado on Sunday at noon MST. That game will air on the Pac-12 Networks.