When winter storms caused the Washington-Arizona State game to be called off, Arizona coach Adia Barnes was worried about the Arizona-Washington State game suffering the same fate. She told the Arizona Daily Star, “We need this game not to be cancelled.”
It was an important game for the Wildcats’ postseason hopes. Like the game against the Huskies, Washington State was an opportunity for the Wildcats to add a win against a team in the bottom third of the Pac-12. It was so important that they spent hours in the Seattle-Tacoma airport and got into Pullman late Friday night.
They couldn’t take advantage of that opportunity, though, losing by a score of 90-88. It was the fifth straight time that the Wildcats have dropped the second game of the Pac-12 weekend. Arizona hasn’t won the back-end match-up since conference play started.
The victory ended the Cougars’ seven-game losing streak in the Pac-12, moving them to 3-10 in conference play.
All season, Arizona’s defense has been their calling card. On the other end of the floor, they often struggle to get anyone but Aari McDonald to score. On Saturday afternoon, the problems were just the opposite.
The Wildcats had four players in double figures, led by McDonald with 26. She went over the 15-point mark with just over two minutes left in the third quarter, reaching the milestone in every one of the Wildcats’ 23 games this season.
McDonald also led the team with six assists and six rebounds. On defense, she drew the difficult assignment of the Cougars’ point guard, Chanelle Molina, for most of the game.
“She does not get tired,” Pac-12 analyst Elise Woodward said about McDonald’s play on both ends of the court.
The Arizona point guard wasn’t alone in her team’s offensive production. Cate Reese had 19 points, the most she’s scored in a Pac-12 game and just two off her career high.
Sam Thomas added 16, just one shy of the season high she set against UCLA. That game went three overtimes, though, making this her best effort in a 40-minute contest.
Lucia Alonso was crucial down the stretch, helping the Wildcats cut a double-digit lead down to one possession. She ended the game with 14 points and four assists.
McDonald was key to shutting down Molina in the third quarter. The Washington State point guard had 19 points in the first half, but didn’t score in the third.
Arizona couldn’t maintain that in the fourth, though. They allowed her to put nine more points on the stat sheet. Molina would finish with 28 points and nine assists.
The Wildcats also struggled to reign in Borislava Hristova. The Cougars’ leading scorer had yet another 30-point effort, ending the game with 37. It was her fourth game scoring over 30 this season.
The first half was a close affair, with Washington State going into the locker room with a four-point lead. They came out the more aggressive team in the third, despite the job McDonald did defending Molina.
The Cougars only outscored the Wildcats by three in the third quarter, but it allowed them to end the period with a seven-point lead.
After pushing it to 11 early in the fourth, the Cougars just tried to hold on till the end. It worked.
Trapping defense, mental errors by Washington State, and a timely timeout called by Barnes allowed the Wildcats to make it a close one down to the final seconds. A McDonald 3-point attempt at the buzzer was no good, though, securing the win for the Cougars.
In the end, it was the defense that wasn’t able to get it done. The Wildcats allowed the Cougars to shoot over 54 percent for the game, including going 8-for-18 from distance. They also allowed the Cougars to out-rebound them by five overall and by two on the offensive glass.
Next week, Arizona returns to McKale Center to face Utah and Colorado. The Utah game will tip off at 6 p.m. MST on Friday.