The Arizona Wildcats went into their matchup with the Colorado Buffaloes looking for their first sweep of the Pac-12 season. In fact, they hadn’t won the second game of a conference weekend all year, and they hadn’t swept a weekend since the 2010-11 season.
“We didn’t think about the sweep at all,” Arizona guard Aari McDonald said. “We were just doing what we do.”
If there was a team they could have expected to reverse that trend against, it was Colorado. The Buffs had gone winless in Pac-12 play until they posted a five-point victory over USC on Feb. 10.
Their star point guard, Kennedy Leonard, was playing limited minutes in her first game back from an injury that had kept her out for the past six weeks. With Leonard limited, the Buffs were starting three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior.
The Wildcats took advantage, trailing for only eight seconds all game in a 63-51 victory.
“Any time you can get a sweep in this league, it’s just huge,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “And I think, to me, some of the scariest teams to play are teams that have one or two (wins). Just like us last year, you have nothing to play for. You just go out and play, because you’re expected to lose. I think those are the hardest teams. Colorado’s a lot better than their record, especially with Kennedy Leonard back.”
Arizona got out to a quick start, pushing the lead to as many as 13 points in the first quarter. They pulled away from Colorado without McDonald’s usual scoring prowess. She scored 13 points for the game—her first game under 15 points this season.
“I knew after a couple of shots, I wasn’t on,” McDonald said. “So, I’m not going to just keep shooting and forcing stuff. So, I definitely wanted to get my teammates involved more. And, credit to Colorado, they played good defense. But my teammates are really good. They stepped up, and they were converting today.”
In the first quarter, McDonald took only two shots and missed them both. When the first 10 minutes were over, she had four points, all from free throws. She still ended the game two rebounds and an assist short of a triple double. In addition to her 13 points, she had eight rebounds, nine assists, four steals and two blocks.
Cate Reese took on the role of lead scorer, getting 17 points on 8-for-17 shooting. She also pulled down nine rebounds to lead the game in both stats.
The Wildcats got balanced scoring with Dominique McBryde also scoring in double figures. McBryde matched McDonald with 13 points.
“What you do see with us is that we’re sharing the ball better,” Barnes said. “We’re playing really unselfish. We’re looking to draw and get our teammates shots. That’s been something conscious that we’re doing a lot better.”
The Wildcats started quickly, building a six-point lead by the end of the first quarter. They pushed that to 13 points with just over five minutes left in the first half, and took a 34-25 lead into the locker room.
Arizona picked up where they left off out of the half, eventually building the lead to 18 with 3:41 left in the third quarter. Colorado pushed back, going on a seven-point run to cut Arizona’s advantage to 11.
“I thought we got really lackadaisical in the third quarter,” Barnes said. “I thought we took some really quick shots that we didn’t need to, because a ten-point game in this league with a quarter-and-a-half to go is not a big lead.”
The Buffs proved that when they cut the lead to single digits in the fourth quarter. They used another seven-point run to get within seven points. A layup by McBryde and a 3-point shot by Semaj Smith gave the ‘Cats some cushion again, putting them back up by 12.
The win moved Arizona to 17-8 on the season and 7-7 in the Pac-12. The have secured a winning record for the season, and strengthened their chances at postseason play.
“We want to make the NCAAs,” McDonald said. “But, if not, we’ll make the NIT and still compete at a high level.”
RISE Unity Game
The Wildcats welcomed former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords for their RISE Unity game. They joined Colorado at half court to link arms for the playing of the national anthem before the game, and honored Giffords at halftime as a Champion of Change.