Cramps, calls that didn’t go her way, a tough USC team on the road. None of it was enough to stop Aari McDonald and the Arizona Wildcats on Friday evening at the Galen Center. The Wildcats improved to 13-0 on the season and 2-0 in the Pac-12 with a 65-57 victory over the Women of Troy.
“Anytime in the Pac-12, if you can get a sweep, it’s amazing,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes told KTUC’s Derrick Palmer after the game. “It’s incredible. If you can go on the road and get splits at least, and then you can take care of business at home, we’ll put ourselves in a good situation. But now we’re undefeated in league, 2-0. I’ll take that. I don’t know how much longer I can say that.”
McDonald led the game with 24 points. She added six rebounds, three assists and five steals, but she also battled the turnover bug and obvious cramping in her calves. She gave the ball away eight times on over the course of the evening.
It didn’t faze her.
“She battles,” Barnes said. “She was cramping for the last five minutes and a lot of people don’t have the will to stay in and find a way to grind it out. She does. That’s who she is. That’s why she’s one of the best in the country. But she fought, she played a lot of minutes. Didn’t hang her head. We had a couple really late turnovers. Didn’t hang her head when she didn’t get the calls on lay-ups. And still found a way to battle. And incredible on-ball defense.”
The Wildcats also got another crucial double-double from Cate Reese. Reese had 17 points and 11 rebounds on the night, giving her the fourth double-double in her last six games and her second straight in Pac-12 play. Reese also had two assists and two blocks.
Her fellow sophomore, Semaj Smith, helped Reese create a formidable inside duo. After an underwhelming game against Arizona State last Sunday, the 6-foot-6 center had eight points and 12 rebounds to go with an assist, two blocks and a steal.
“Cate’s doing a really good job of looking for Semaj,” Barnes said. “Semaj’s doing a really good job looking for Cate.”
Freshman guard Helena Pueyo played 29 minutes after logging 32 in the Pac-12 opener. She gave the Wildcats a third scorer in double-digits by going 3-for-5 from beyond the arc and 2-for-2 from the charity stripe for a total of 11 points. She added three rebounds, an assist, a block and two steals.
Despite having three players in double digits and another very close, it wasn’t an easy game. Both teams came out cold as ice, putting up identical 1-for-9 shooting performances to start the game. It was the third straight game that Arizona has come out sluggish.
“I just thought we weren’t locked in from the beginning,” Barnes said.
The score was 3-3 at 5:46 in the first quarter. It would stay that way until 4:32, but things finally started to pick up after that. The Wildcats built a 9-3 lead, then the Women of Troy kicked things in gear, too.
USC took its first lead at 15-14 and ended the opening 10 minutes up 16-17. Another closely-contested second quarter sent the teams into the half with the Wildcats leading 33-32.
The second half started much better for Arizona than the first did. They jumped on USC early and built a 40-32 lead. The Women of Troy cut the lead to one point midway through, but the Wildcats were up by eight when the third quarter came to an end.
USC trimmed the lead to a single possession briefly in the final 10 minutes, but that’s as much as it could manage. The Women of Troy couldn’t overtake the Wildcats despite the turnovers and McDonald’s cramping legs.
Arizona now takes its perfect record to Westwood to face No. 10 UCLA on Sunday. The Bruins squeaked out a 68-66 victory over ASU on Friday, making it a matchup between two 13-0 squads.