Coming up short to a talented Oregon State team two years in a row was a tough way for the Arizona Wildcats to end a great game. For all the discussion of whether Mikayla Pivec traveled on the final shot, it wasn’t the most important takeaway.
The Wildcats did a lot to put themselves in a position to win, but they also had some crucial errors that had far more impact than a referee’s whistle.
Turning Oregon State over
The Beavers average 15.5 turnovers per game. The Wildcats were able to turn them over 19 times. That matches the second-most turnovers Oregon State has had this season. It was a big reason Arizona was able to cut into double-digit leads that the Beavers built.
“They caused us to make too many mistakes and that led to transition,” Oregon State Scott Rueck said of the Wildcats’ defense. “And our turnovers, I felt kept them in the game, but they created those.”
Arizona did it on the back of nine steals, five by Aari McDonald, but they also had their moments holding strong in the half-court. They forced the Beavers into three shot-clock violations.
The return of Dominique McBryde
Last season, Dominique McBryde had her biggest game when Arizona hosted Oregon State. Rueck said the Beavers were prepared for her to play.
“I figured based upon last year’s game and her performance here, this would be the last game she’d miss,” he said. “I figured if she was limping out here, she’d be out here to try to recreate that. So she was definitely on our scouting report. I just had a feeling she’d be in. And what a special player she is, so it’s fun to play teams at full strength for sure. And I’m happy for her when she got to play.”
“I got some word that before the game that they were asking our trainer if I’d be out there,” McBryde said. “The goal was to try to trick them to see if I was just warming up or not...but (Rueck) was right. I really wanted to be back in. No pressure to get back in, but I just really want to be back with everybody.”
She had an immediate impact on the game. McBryde’s first big play was a block of talented freshman Taylor Jones’ shot. Then, a layup to cut the Beavers’ lead to three.
Arizona punches back
The Wildcats had several chances to go away. They didn’t.
In the first quarter, they fell behind by seven points. Two minutes later, they were within one. Eventually, the would take a four-point lead of their own halfway through the second quarter.
The Beavers rebuilt that seven-point lead late in the second quarter, then came out hot in the third. Their lead would grow to 11.
The Wildcats responded. A 10-0 run had the lead back down to one point with 90 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Once again, it was the Beavers starting a quarter strong and regaining a nine-point lead early in the fourth. Over the next six minutes, the Wildcats chipped away until they had their own one-point lead. Only a great shot by Pivec kept them from their biggest win in over 15 years.
“So gritty,” Rueck said of the Wildcats. “And that’s the reason they’ve done what they’ve done. I thought we had a chance to get away from them if we played perfectly. We didn’t, because of them. They caused us to make too many mistakes.”
Three-point shooting has been an issue for Arizona most of the season. It was still a problem against Oregon State, but the bigger problem was 3-point defense.
The Beavers shoot well from distance, but their season average is only 37.3 percent. Against Arizona, they hit 9 of 20 for 45 percent. To make matters worse, the Wildcats fouled Oregon State twice on 3-point attempts.
After the first, freshman Kennedy Brown calmly stepped to the line and sank all three free throws. The second turned into a four-point play by Kat Tudor that put the Beavers up by five with just two seconds to go in the third quarter.
“The mistakes that I don’t like are the fouls on the 3-point shot, the and-one,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “That’s why you lose the game. It’s not the last play. It’s the six offensive rebounds in the first or the seven in the first half. It’s those things that...it wears on you. Every possession matters.”
Helena Pueyo gets injured
While the injury was not serious and Barnes expects her freshman guard back for Sunday’s game against No. 2 Oregon, a twisted ankle in the second quarter ended a promising game for Helena Pueyo.
Pueyo came in with 5:51 to go in the first quarter and hit one of Arizona’s four 3-point shots just over 30 seconds later. At the other end of the floor, she stole the ball from Pivec and got it to Cate Reese for the assist. The five points scored on her basket and assist cut the Oregon State lead to a single point.
She would add another assist and a block in her five minutes of play.
At the 9:19 mark in the second quarter, she fell under the basket and had to be helped off the court. It looked much worse than it turned out to be, but it took a way an important weapon on both ends of the floor.
“It hurt us when Pueyo went out because against the zone she really stretches the defense,” Barnes said, “so it’s a big difference.”
So close, but still so far away
Arizona has now lost their last two games to Oregon State by a total of seven points. When added to their two-point loss to Stanford on their final roadtrip last season, they have been so close to pulling off the big upset, but can’t quite get there.
On at least a few occasions against the Beavers, it seemed like the moment got to Arizona. One early play demonstrated the tendency of the Wildcats to rush in the big moments.
When the Wildcats cut the lead to one at the five minute mark of the first quarter, they had the chance to take the lead. Semaj Smith rebounded a missed layup from Pivec. Within five seconds of Smith grabbing the rebound, McDonald had already put up a jumper that was off the mark. On the other end of the floor, Oregon State hit a 3-pointer to push their lead back out to four.
Meanwhile, the Beavers never seemed to push or try to do too much. Even as things got tight at the end, they knew they could pull out the win. Their experience has prepared them for it.
“That’s a very comfortable place for us,” Rueck said about being in a close game at the wire. “And we’ve been in so many close games. If you look at what this team did last year, every game we had down the stretch with overtime or last possession. It felt like that all the way through Boise State into the tournament. So that situation prepared us.”
Arizona is still learning how to seize those victories against good teams in tight games. They were able to do it against Arizona State to open Pac-1 2 play. Learning how to do it against top-five teams is the next step.