After three straight losses to three straight top-10 teams, the Arizona Wildcats needed to get back to their winning ways if they hoped to meet the goals they set for themselves before the season.
They accomplished that with a 74-67 victory over the Washington State Cougars on Friday night. Cate Reese had a career-high 26 points in what wasn’t the prettiest game, especially in the first half.
Without a strong third quarter, the Wildcats likely would have come away with another loss in Pullman.
“We didn’t play good basketball today,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes told Arizona IMG Radio Network’s Derrick Palmer.
Her biggest complaints were on the defensive end. The Wildcats allowed the Cougars to shoot 56 percent from the field, including 41 percent from 3. There was also that rebounding problem.
Arizona has struggled to outrebound anyone this year. Even in the pre-conference portion of the season, they were outrebounded by much smaller, less athletic teams. After losing to Oregon last Sunday, Barnes said that it was something they had to improve on.
They didn’t accomplish that task against WSU. The Cougars grabbed 31 boards to the Wildcats’ 24. The only positive news from the rebounding numbers was that Arizona tied Washington State with seven offensive rebounds apiece.
Arizona was saved by other parts of their game. While the Cougars shot 41 percent from 3, the Wildcats bettered them by going 7 for 15. The 47 percent success rate marked just the fourth time this season that the team had shot over 40 percent from outside. It was the first such performance since Dec. 2 against Monmouth.
The Wildcats also bothered the Cougars with their ability to force turnovers. Arizona scored 23 points off 22 Washington State turnovers. The team had eight steals, led by Reese.
They also got a significant free throw advantage for the first time since they faced USC on Jan. 3. The Wildcats went 21-22 from the line compared to 4-9 for the Cougars.
Unlike last year’s game in Pullman, Arizona was able to keep Borislave Hristova under her season average of 19.2 points per game. The Cougars’ leading scorer scored just 14 points. Compared to the 37 she put up against the Wildcats last year, it was a good defensive effort by Arizona.
The Wildcats also held Chanelle Molina below her 27-point output last season, but it was still a strong effort from the senior guard. Molina led the Cougars with 19 points, more than three points over her season average.
Reese led with four steals, but Barnes was concerned about the rebounding of all of her posts.
Reese had just two boards in 35 minutes. Semaj Smith matched those two boards in just six minutes. Dominique McBryde didn’t grab any rebounds in her 29 minutes of play. After the game, Barnes again stressed how vital it is that Arizona improves in that aspect of the game.
The rebounding effort was led by Aari McDonald who grabbed eight to go along with her 19 points, one assist and one steal. McDonald’s problem was turnovers. She was responsible for five of the team’s 12 giveaways.
Senior guard Lucia Alonso found her shot. The guard hit 3 of her 4 shots from beyond the arc to score nine. She also added two rebounds and two steals. Sam Thomas was just behind with eight points while also contributing four rebounds, two assists and four blocks.
The effort was enough to get by the Cougars. A similar effort would likely get the Wildcats by the Washington Huskies on Sunday, as well. As Barnes made clear, it’s unlikely to produce victories over the other five ranked teams in the Pac-12.