Everything pointed to a tough game for the Arizona Wildcats.
In late January in Tucson, Arizona was able to hang onto a three-point victory over the USC Trojans in a close game, and from that point USC went 6-4 while the Wildcats went 3-7 to finish with identical 7-11 records in Pac-12 play.
Apparently no one told eighth-seeded Arizona (18-12) it was supposed to be a tight contest, though. The Wildcats came out from the opening tip with their foot on the accelerator and ran away with a 76-48 victory over No. 9 USC on Thursday afternoon in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.
Aari McDonald and Cate Reese led all scorers with 19 points each. Reese also pulled down 11 rebounds for her sixth double-double of the year, while McDonald added seven assists.
Tee Tee Starks, who went 4 for 4 from the 3-point line in the January game against USC, made 4 of 5 threes and was 5 of 7 overall en route to a career-high 14 points.
And in her trip home, Sam Thomas got into the act, too. She was perfect from the field, going 4 for 4 with two from the 3-point line.
Arizona took the lead less than four minutes into the first quarter and didn’t look back. By the end of the first 10 minutes, the Wildcats were up by seven.
Perhaps most surprising is that they weren’t reliant on McDonald. The conference’s leading scorer had five assists and nine points in the first half, but she wasn’t the leading scorer.
Reese put up 13 points in the first half to lead all scorers. Her four rebounds were second only to Dominique McBryde. She even hit one shot from beyond the arc.
On the other end, nothing was going right for USC (17-13). The Women of Troy couldn’t buy a bucket, and they were racking up fouls on key players. More importantly, they couldn’t defend anyone wearing white.
Kayla Overbeck, Aliyah Mazyck and Ja’Tavia Tapley all had two fouls in the first half. Mazyck had to go to the bench early, and Tapley picked up her third in the third quarter.
When the horn blew at the end of the first 20 minutes, Arizona was up 44-21. At the end of the half, the Wildcats trailed their season scoring average by only 25 points.
The second half was more of the same. The third quarter was marred by excessive whistles on both teams, but it didn’t keep the Wildcats from extending their lead. At the end of 30, they were just nine points off their average, leading the Women of Troy 60-36.
As the game wound down, coach Adia Barnes was able to pull her starters and get all of her reserves some minutes. With top-seeded Oregon on the slate for tomorrow, they can use the rest.
Arizona will face the Ducks, whom it lost to 83-54 at home last week, Friday at 2:30 p.m. MST at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.