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Arizona mounts huge comeback to defeat Washington on the road

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 07 Women’s Arizona at Washington Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It couldn’t have started any worse for the Arizona Wildcats. Through the first nine minutes against the Washington Huskies, they had nine turnovers. By the end of the first quarter, Washington had a 19-point lead.

But Arizona had Aari McDonald. It was enough for the 66-58 victory.

The Wildcats scored only eight points in the opening 10 minutes while giving up 27 to the home team. McDonald had seven of those points. When Arizona needed a bucket, she found a way. She would find a way all afternoon.

McDonald would go on to lead all scorers with 25 while playing every minute of the game. She barely missed the double-double with nine rebounds while adding two assists and two steals.

The major problem was turnovers. In a tale of two halves, McDonald had five in the opening half. Her team had 12. After halftime, she had only one of the Wildcats’ four giveaways.

Cate Reese and Sam Thomas joined McDonald in double figures for the Wildcats. Thomas had a monster all-around game with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists, four blocks and four steals in 36 minutes. Despite dealing with an injury, Reese scored 10 points, grabbed six boards, and added a block and two steals.

The Wildcats had a multitude of problems in the opening 10 minutes. They couldn’t hold onto the ball. They couldn’t hit shots, shooting 21.4 from the field and going 0-4 from 3-point distance. They also couldn’t defend.

The Huskies went 12 for 19 in that opening frame. Leading scorer Amber Melgoza had 12 points. Six Washington players put points on the board.

Fortunately for Arizona, there were still 30 minutes left to play. They made the most of them.

The Wildcats chipped away at the deficit, outscoring Washington 21-11 in the second quarter. In almost a mirror image of the opening quarter, Melgoza was the one who got little help in the second. She scored six of the Huskies’ 11 points while six Arizona players put points on the board to go into the break trailing by nine.

The concern was injury. Reese was fouled with 7:48 to go in the first half as Washington’s Jaquaya Miller slid under her trying to take the charge. Reese immediately grabbed her arm and got up in tears. Reese hit her free throw on the and-1, but exited the game soon after and didn’t return for the rest of the half.

After giving away most of their lead in the second quarter, things only got worse for Washington out of halftime. Whatever Arizona coach Adia Barnes told her players in the locker room worked. It also helped that Reese returned to the floor, albeit with a taped hand and wrist.

Reese scored Arizona’s first six points over the first three minutes of the third quarter. It was enough to cut Washington’s lead to six.

The injury obviously bothered Reese, though. She missed three of her four free throws over the final 20 minutes of the game. Despite that, she scored seven of her 10 points and played all but six minutes in the half.

Cutting down on turnovers and getting to the line were the keys to the comeback. After giving the ball away 12 times in the first half, the Wildcats had just four in the second. Twenty-one of their 29 free throws came over the final 20 minutes of the game.

On the defensive end, they locked down. Melgoza would end the game with 18 points, but only six of those came after halftime. She didn’t get her first points of the final half until 2:28 to go in the third quarter. As the only Husky who averages double figures, her absence from point production put Washington in a bind. They couldn’t escape.

When they walked out of Alaska Airlines Arena, the Wildcats had shown that they could pull out the tough ones. Even without their best stuff and without their home crowd to lift them, the team was able to regroup and dominate for three quarters.

Now, they return to McKale for a much tougher test: going for the season sweep of the Sun Devils. They can’t afford one bad quarter against their rivals.