The Arizona Wildcats beat Idaho State 66-56 on Thursday in the first round of the WNIT in front of 3,265 raucous fans, as they captured their first postseason win in 14 years.
It was almost a perfect night for the upstart program.
“I just wish we would have played a little bit better,” said Arizona coach Adia Barnes.
Led by 20 points and 10 rebounds from Cate Reese, the Wildcats raced to a 21-point lead with two minutes left in the second quarter, but struggled mightily from there. The Bengals started the third quarter on a 15-2 run and cut UA’s lead to seven midway through the period.
The Wildcats shot 25 percent in the second half, but still held on thanks to a sparkling 26-of-32 mark from the free throw line.
Reese went 8 for 8 from the stripe. Senior Destiny Graham went 10 for 10.
“We didn’t have our A-game for sure. It was ugly,” Barnes said. “Besides the first five minutes of the game, we did not play a good game. We looked like we hadn’t played in two weeks. We looked rusty, we were forcing shots, we looked exhausted after the first two minutes, but I’ve never met a win I don’t like.”
Especially one as historic as this.
“It’s a good feeling and it shows how far we’ve come,” Reese said.
The freshman scored half of her 20 points in a dominant first quarter. The Wildcats opened the game on a 9-2 run and led 18-7 after one. Arizona was without starting forward Dominique McBryde due to illness, so Reese knew she had to be aggressive out of the gate.
The McDonald’s All-American scored seven of UA’s first nine points. Her double-double was her seventh of the season.
“Cate is just going to play like Cate,” Graham said. “I think she’s pretty much been like that the whole season. She can be 0 for 20 and just keep going and going. And that’s what I love about her so much. She never gives up. She’s so aggressive on both ends and I think she’s gotten way better on defense, too.”
As Idaho State tried to make one last push, Reese knocked down two free throws to put UA up by 10 with 5:03 left in the fourth, Aari McDonald put Arizona up 12 by driving for a layup, and Sam Thomas buried a 3 to push it 60-45 with three minutes to play.
“I don’t know if it was the fact that we haven’t played in a while or just that we were tired,” Reese said of the sluggish second half. “I don’t know. But we knew we had to get a stop and we got it at right time and we took back the momentum.”
McDonald had an unusually quiet game, finishing with 15 points on 4-of-12 shooting, clanging several shots off the front iron, though she had five rebounds and five assists.
The Bengals shot 61 percent in the second half, outscoring Arizona 36-28.
“Our zone press in the second half, we didn’t do well,” Barnes said. “They were flashing and they got some layups, so we had to take it off. I think our man press was working, but... I though they missed some shots. They had open looks. And they were getting us on backcuts and that’s how they came back .... We just were giving them open 3s, not communicating. I thought we looked a little bit tired.”
Barnes thanked the crowd after the game for its support, then challenged it to reach the 5,000-fan mark Sunday when Arizona hosts Pacific at 3 p.m. in the second round.
“It was awesome. I thought it was great for the program, great for the city,” Barnes said of the atmosphere. “We had 2,500 pre-sold tickets. We’ve never had that. And I think that the crowd sounded like it was more than 3,300. It sounded like there was 5 or 6,000. I thought they were enthusiastic, they stayed, they weren’t booing when we were playing bad, so that was good. I’m excited to see that because I don’t think people have been excited about Arizona women’s basketball for a long time.
“And I think we’re going to have more on Sunday.”
McBryde out with illness
McBryde wasn’t the only player dealing with illness Thursday.
“She’s sick and a couple other players have had strep,” Barnes said. “Cate just got over strep. We’ve had a lot of people sick and including myself. I’ve bee sick for about six months today. I get rid of it, get it back, it’s awful.”
Here’s Adia Barnes after Arizona Women's Basketball’s WNIT win over Idaho StatePosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Thursday, March 21, 2019
Cate Reese and Destiny Graham
Here’s Cate Reese and Destiny Graham on Arizona Women's Basketball’s WNIT win vs. Idaho StatePosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Thursday, March 21, 2019