After struggling with her shot in Friday’s loss to No. 3 Oregon State, Aari McDonald was hoisting jumpers at 6:45 a.m. in McKale Center on Sunday, a little over five hours before a showdown with the Oregon Ducks.
McDonald knew she needed to be sharp for her team to pull off a historic upset. And while her early-morning workout resulted in one of her most prolific games of the season, it still was not enough to topple the No. 2 team in the country.
McDonald scored 10 of her 25 points in the first quarter and drilled half of her 10 3-point attempts, but the Ducks held off No. 18 Arizona for a 71-64 victory, returning to the win column after being stunned by Arizona State on Friday in Tempe.
The Wildcats (13-3, 2-3 Pac-12) have lost three straight, all to top-10 teams. A last-second shot propelled OSU to victory in McKale on Friday.
“The takeaway from this weekend for me is we’re not quite there,” said Arizona coach Adia Barnes. “We’re close, but there are better teams. ... They’re better because of all the experience.”
McDonald swiped two steals and sank two 3s to give UA an early 10-8 lead, her energy bringing a boisterous crowd of 7,680 to its feet in the early goings. The redshirt junior swished her fifth triple of the day with 1:23 left in the fourth but the Wildcats were unable to pull any closer.
“We can compete with anybody,” McDonald said. “Don’t overlook us. Our defense definitely keeps us in games, we’re physical, and we like to lock teams down.”
Thanks in part to 17 forced turnovers on the day, the Wildcats trimmed a 13-point deficit to five entering the fourth. Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu took over from there. The ballyhooed senior scored nine of UO’s final 11 points to complete her fourth triple-double of the season and NCAA-record 22nd of her career.
Despite only having two points in the first half, the two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. Ionescu slashed for an and-one to put Oregon up six with 2:54 left and swished a runner to make it 65-59 with 90 seconds to play.
After McDonald answered with a 3, Minyon Moore drove the cup for a layup to keep the Oregon lead at five. Sam Thomas cooly sank two free throws to pull Arizona within three with 38.8 left, before Ionescu, a 90-percent foul shooter, buried four straight free throws to seal the game.
“We are competing but we just have to finish the game,” said UA guard Lucia Alonso. “We can beat everybody in the Pac-12. We just need to get better at rebounding, defense, and taking care of the ball.”
Two stats told the story: Oregon outrebounded Arizona 39-23 and outscored the Wildcats 16-6 in the second quarter. Arizona shot 20 percent and committed eight turnovers in that period, Oregon’s long zone bothering them.
Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally combined for 11 points in the quarter. Hebard, a load inside, finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Sabally had 18 and 7, respectively.
“When you have six points and eight turnovers against the No. 2 team in the country, you will not win,” Barnes said. “So the second quarter was definitely a backbreaker for us.”
The scoring picked up for both teams in the third quarter. Sabally made two free throws to put the Ducks up 47-34 with 5:41 left in the third, before the Wildcats sank five of their next six shots to pull within 51-44 with 2:32 left in the period.
Dominique McBryde, in her second game back from a nagging ankle injury, flexed after scoring over a horde of Oregon defenders to cut the deficit to 53-48 heading into the fourth.
Alonso swished a long 3 to make it 60-57 with 3:51 to play, but the Wildcats could not get the stops they needed to complete the comeback.
“If you would have told me we’re gonna lose by 17 on the boards, I would say we’re gonna lose by 30 points,” Barnes said. “So the areas we need to get better at is rebounding... and then we got to work on offense. We got to be able to hit shots. So we’re just going to work on that because our defense is good. I mean, there are times when we give stuff up but we’re a good defensive team.”
The Wildcats shot a solid 9 for 23 from the 3-point line but non-McDonald players were 4 for 13. Arizona was without its top marksman, as freshman guard Helena Pueyo sat with a sprained left ankle.
That forced Barnes to dip deeper into the bench. It did not go well. Freshman guards Mara Mote and Tara Manumaleuga committed three turnovers in a two-minute span.
The Ducks capitalized, capping the second quarter with a 7-0 run to lead 35-26 at the break after they trailed 20-18 heading into the period.
“I think one of the toughest things for me is we’re not able to stay healthy as a team and compete against the best,” Barnes said. “Today, they played us zone the entire game. It is very hard for a team to play zone the entire game. With Helena I don’t think they can stay in zone the whole game. And credit to them, their zone bothered us.”
The Wildcats will face the unranked Washington schools on the road next weekend.
Barnes knows going toe-to-toe with two top-3 teams shows her program’s growth, but she still expressed frustration they could not pull off what earlier in the week she called “the biggest upset in college basketball.”
“They’re games we really could have won, so I think it’s just hard to put that in perspective,” she said. “I think when I step back, I will (be happy) but without a couple mistakes here and there, we would have beaten Oregon State. I think that we kind of dug ourselves a hole because of the second quarter. It was tough to kind of come back in this game and the boards were hard. But I think to know we’re close enough and know we’re maybe another player away or a couple decisions away, it’s hard. It’s hard because I feel that we have a better chance at home. So I know we’re capable of beating a top team in the country, but we just need to do it. And I think we will before the season’s over.”
Adia Barnes on Arizona’s fan support and ability to take two top-3 teams to the wire: “This is my expectation. I didn’t come here to stay bad forever. Will we be the No. 1 team next year? Maybe not. But I expect that we’ll be better.” pic.twitter.com/jOmK1qWcBf— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 12, 2020
Here’s Adia Barnes on @ArizonaWBB’s 71-64 loss to No. 2 Oregon. She said it’s tough that injuries have prevented her team from being at full strength this season.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 12, 2020
Helena Pueyo missed Sunday’s game with an ankle sprain. pic.twitter.com/4tZZrNEVBN
Here’s Aari McDonald (25 points) and Lucia Alonso (8 points) on @ArizonaWBB’s 71-64 loss to No. 2 Oregon.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 12, 2020
Aari explained why she was shooting jumpers in McKale at 6:45 this morning. pic.twitter.com/jvsRT5wOsv
Oregon coach Kelly Graves on @ArizonaWBB: “They are a really good basketball team. I think everybody knows that. … That’s how hard it is in this conference. They played well this weekend and lost twice at home. It’s tough.”— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 12, 2020
(He really didn’t like talking about the UA ) pic.twitter.com/sceHEQhjbJ