The Arizona Wildcats hoped to send their three seniors off with their first win over a top 10 team since 2004, but it looked like they were going to get blown out by Oregon State early in the game.
Instead, the Wildcats fought to two overtimes, only to fall 65-60 in their third heart breaker in two weeks.
“It’s not a good feeling at all,” Aari McDonald said. “We left everything we had out on the court, and competed with a top-10 team. So, it’s not too bad, but we definitely have some improving to do going into the Pac-12 Tournament.”
Arizona coach Adia Barnes said the near misses were more difficult to get over than the blowouts.
“Kind of worse,” she said when asked about the three close losses over the final two weeks. “I was telling someone else that after the UCLA game, I was like, ‘This is the worst loss ever.’ After the Stanford game, I was like, ‘This is the worst loss ever.’ After the Cal game, I was like, ‘This is the third. This is the worst ever.’ Now, I feel the same way.”
McDonald led all scorers with 23 points. She added six rebounds and four assists, becoming the fourth player in Pac-12 history to score at least 700 points and dish out at least 120 assists in a season.
Although McDonald had the bigger numbers, Dominique McBryde might have been the most important Wildcat on the floor. She put up a season high 20 points, going 4-for-7 from the 3-point line.
When Arizona needed a bucket, it was McBryde who came up big time and again. In the second quarter, when Arizona was working to get into the game, she scored eight of the team’s 13 points.
“Dominique played incredible for us,” Barnes said. “This is how I would expect Dominique every game. This is what I expect. We’ve been waiting a while, and this is what she is capable of doing. She’s capable of doing this the whole season.”
The Wildcats were out-rebounded 57-34. The Beavers shot 42 percent to Arizona’s 30 percent. Other than McBryde, Arizona went 2-for-13 from outside. Oregon State had four more assists than Arizona.
And, yet, it took two overtimes to decide the game because Arizona only gave the ball away four times while forcing the Beavers into 18 turnovers.
“If you would have told me that we’re going to allow Oregon State to shoot 70 percent in the first couple minutes, they’re going to end the game at 42 percent from the floor, and you’re going to get out-rebounded by 22, I would have said we’re going to lose by 30,” Barnes said. “So, because of our defense, because of other things, because of the passion plays—those things—and then us turning them over 18 times, and then us only have four turnovers. That’s why we're in the game. But, if we cut down half of those missed box outs. And—we continued to struggle from the line—if we make those free throws in regulation again, we win.”
The Wildcats looked completely outmatched in the first quarter. The Beavers shot 69 percent and out-rebounded Arizona 12-2. The home team had no answer to the size or the shooting of Oregon State.
Arizona couldn’t stay with OSU’s shooters on the outside, where they were 2-for-2. They couldn’t guard them on the inside, where the Beavers dominated 10-2 on points in the paint.
The only hope the Wildcats had was the tendency of the Beavers to turn the ball over. OSU already had five turnovers by the end of the first 10 minutes, but they also had a nine-point lead.
The Beavers pushed their lead out to 11 points early in the second. With Arizona’s inability to stay with OSU on defense, it looked like the game was going to get out of hand quickly.
But it didn’t. The Wildcats fought back, forcing turnovers and leaning on McBryde.
McBryde had eight of her 20 points in the second quarter, including connecting on two 3-pointers. McDonald had two steals and Tee Tee Starks had one—just three of the Beaver’s nine turnovers.
When the buzzer sounded at the half, the Wildcats had cut the Oregon State lead to four.
The second half started just as the first ended. A steal by Arizona resulted in no points. On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats played tough defense for exactly 29 seconds before giving up a basket. Rebounds were secured by Joanna Grymek even when there were two Wildcats with their hands on the ball.
Then, the light seemed to go on for the Wildcats. For the second straight quarter, they held the Beavers to single digits. They only lost the rebound game by four. They continued to take care of the ball while forcing turnovers. McDonald started to take over. And Barnes decided to go with size in the middle, substituting Semaj Smith for Cate Reese.
By the end of the third, it was a one-point game.
The Beavers pushed their lead out to six points twice, but the Wildcats reeled them back in each time. A defensive rebound by Starks became two free throws for McDonald with 3:19 to go. The Wildcats had their first lead since 7:09 in the opening quarter.
With 22 seconds to go, McBryde hit her fourth 3-pointer of the day to put the ‘Cats up 52-50, but the defense couldn’t hold it. They allowed Mikayla Pivec to cut down the lane and tie the game.
A 3-point attempt from McDonald was harmless at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime at 52-all.
Both teams struggled in the first extra period. Missed free throws. Turnovers. Poor shooting. Oregon State built a three-point lead, but the Wildcats pulled them back in, tying it up at 56 apiece on a McDonald free throw. Neither team could score over the final 1:08.
The Beavers finally put it together in the second overtime. They had not outscored Arizona in a period since the first quarter. Grymek’s size proved to be the difference.
The Wildcats will face USC in the Pac-12 Tournament at 3 p.m. MST on Mar. 7. That game will air on the Pac-12 Networks. If they win, they will move on to face No. 1 seed Oregon.
Senior Day Celebrations and Surprises
The Wildcats honored the senior players and managers after the game. Starks had previously announced that she would leave with one year of eligibility remaining. She surprised both the crowd and her coach by announcing that she had changed her mind, and she would return for her final year in 2019-20.
“Nope,” Starks said when asked if Barnes had any idea that she was returning. “I kept a good secret."
She said she decided in February that she should come back after discussing it with her family, but didn’t tell anyone.
“There’s a lot of pluses that could come out of it,” Starks said. “I’m glad to have another season with these girls.”
Arizona hopes there are a lot more pluses to come out of the postseason.