Not just because it was Aari McDonald’s first trip back to Alaska Airlines Arena since transferring to Arizona, and not just because Washington was 11th in the Pac-12 and it was a game Arizona needed to win.
By beating the Huskies, the Wildcats improved to 15-7, guaranteeing their first .500-or-better season since 2010-11. And by finishing .500 or better, Arizona automatically becomes postseason eligible.
Even if Arizona loses its last seven conference games and its Pac-12 Tournament opener, it can’t finish worse than 15-15.
McDonald led the way for the Wildcats in the historic win with 24 points to go along with seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. Sam Thomas (15) and Dominique McBryde (10) reached double figures as well.
Arizona shot 54 percent from the field and 47 percent from 3, one of its best offensive outputs of the season.
Like every UA opponent, the Huskies keyed on McDonald. For the first quarter, they were able to keep her quiet but the relatively balanced scoring worked in the Wildcats’ favor. Four of the five starters got on the board, helping the Wildcats grab an 18-15 lead at the end of the first quarter.
McDonald asserted herself in the second quarter, but the team struggled. They only put up 10 points while turning the ball over seven times. McDonald had seven of those points.
Washington didn’t help their own cause, though. Like Arizona, they fell into letting one player—in their case, Amber Melgoza—carry the offense after having a fairly balanced attack in the first quarter.
Melgoza scored eight of their 10 points in the second, and her team turned the ball over six times. Arizona was able to keep their three-point lead going into the locker room because the Huskies weren’t able to take advantage of the Wildcats’ mistakes.
The Wildcats corrected their second-quarter struggles as the game wore on. The Huskies wouldn’t go away, but they had difficulty taking a lead. When they finally pushed ahead by three with 6:35 left in the game, Lucia Alonso erased it with a 3-pointer.
The Wildcats wouldn’t trail again, though the Huskies kept things close until late in the fourth quarter. Melgoza’s jumper with 2:17 left to go put Washington within two. From there, Arizona pulled away, primarily at the foul line.
For the second time in their past three games, the foul line wasn’t Arizona’s friend for most of the game. In their triple overtime loss to UCLA, Arizona shot only 41 percent from the line. Against the Huskies, they went 15-for-25.
McDonald missed eight of her 19 foul shots over the course of the game, but was able to drain them down the stretch. She hit seven over the final 4:27.
The Wildcats will look to secure a winning season when they travel to Pullman on Saturday. Their game against tenth-place Washington State begins at 1 p.m. MST and will air on the Pac-12 Networks.