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Arizona women’s basketball defeats Idaho to advance to Elite Eight of WNIT

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Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Arizona women’s basketball has not won more than two games in any postseason tournament since they won the WNIT in 1996. On Thursday, in front of 6,307 fans—including a healthy Zona Zoo—they won their third game in the 2019 WNIT.

The Wildcats defeated the Idaho Vandals by a score of 68-60 in a game they led for all but the opening minute and seventeen seconds.

“I love Tucson,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said when asked about the atmosphere. “I love the fans here. I always say there’s a reason I chose this place twice, and you saw that reason tonight.”

Aari McDonald’s usually prolific scoring wasn’t her calling card early on. She scored only four points in the first half, but dished out eight assists.

She didn’t stay in single digits for long, though. McDonald went on to lead Arizona with 18 points while dishing out 11 assists, making her the first Wildcat to have double-digit assists since Daveylln White in 2013.

Cate Reese took the lead in scoring during the first half, getting 12 of her 14 points in the opening 20 minutes. She spent much of the third quarter on the bench, but returned in the fourth to add two points to her total.

Sam Thomas also reached double digits, scoring 13. The versatile forward added six steals, two blocks and five rebounds to her stat line.

The sole criticism of her game was her shooting percentage. Thomas went 4-for-14 from the field, including 3-for-12 from beyond the 3-point.

“She didn’t particularly shoot the ball well from the three, but they were really good looks,” Barnes said. “But she did so many valuable things. She locked whoever she was guarding on defense. She had some great steals, some incredible blocks, and took really good shots—and made big shots.

“I think she played a phenomenal game,” Barnes continued. “Without her playing like that, we don’t win this game.”

Tee Tee Starks went for 11 on 50 percent shooting. Starks made good on four of her eight, shot attempts, including three of six from 3-point range. She added six rebounds and an assist.

Thomas scored the first five points for the Wildcats. Reese added her input, scoring five points of her own to help keep the Vandals at a slight disadvantage.

McDonald finally got her first points in the second quarter, but Reese continued to lead the team in scoring as they pushed their lead to 12. When halftime came around, the Wildcats were up by 10.

The Vandals fought to extend their season. Coming out of the break, they went on an 11-5 run to cut Arizona’s lead to two points. A 3-pointer by Starks and two layups by McDonald pushed the lead back to nine.

The Wildcats continued to run away with it early in the fifth, doubling their lead to a game-high 18 points.

The players didn’t feel like they did it alone, though.

“We want to thank fans,” McDonald said. “I think that was the most ever. We really appreciate the support. We heard them rallying behind us, especially in tough stretches. We really needed that boost of confidence.”

The Wildcats will host Wyoming in the quarterfinals on Sunday, Mar. 31 at 2 p.m. MST. The Cowgirls defeated Pepperdine earlier in the evening.

Postgame interviews

Adia Barnes

Here’s Adia Barnes after Arizona Women's Basketball’s big win over Idaho

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Thursday, March 28, 2019

Sam Thomas and Aari McDonald

Here’s Sam Thomas and Aari McDonald after Arizona Women's Basketball’s win vs. Idaho

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Thursday, March 28, 2019