Northern Arizona was coming off a win over UNLV and came in like a team that believed they could beat the No. 7 Arizona Wildcats. The Lumberjacks certainly proved that they could hold their own on the boards against the bigger Wildcats. What they couldn’t do was contain Cate Reese as Arizona walked away with the 76-63 victory.
“I’ve just been trying to be more aggressive more consistent this season,” Reese said. “And just be able to step up and be a leader.”
Reese put the Wildcats on her back as the team struggled in the half court over the opening half. By halftime, the junior forward had half her team’s points with 15. She would end the day with a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Reese attributed her strong showing to her teammates (the team had 17 assists) and to off-season work.
“I’ve just been really working hard on my left hand,” she said. “That was definitely something I came in my freshman year, I could not go left to save my life. So I think that that’s just something I’ve been focusing a lot on and just be more aggressive in getting to the basket.”
It was the difference for Arizona as the Lumberjacks held Aari McDonald to just three points on 1-for-7 shooting over the first 20 minutes. The team went 0-for-6 from 3, and they just looked rusty.
“The first game was very rusty but we haven’t played in 266 days, so I have to keep that in the back of my mind,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “I’m just blessed for the fact that we’re able to play. I look all around the country, and honestly today was nervous up until we actually went in to warm up, just because so many things are changing.”
McDonald would pick it up in the second half, ending with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists. It was her 67th straight game in double figures, comprising her entire career at Arizona.
“I was pretty much wanting to take what the defense was giving me but at the same time, my feet weren’t set,” McDonald said. “So, coming into the second half, I could just relax and my shots started to fall towards the end, but...we were able to sustain that because Cate was hot, man. She couldn’t miss.”
Shaina Pellington and Trinity Baptiste joined Reese and McDonald in double digits. Pellington scored 11 points and Baptiste had 12.
The entire team seemed to pick it up after the half. The Wildcats eventually stretched the lead out to 22 points at 6:19 in the fourth quarter, just after Barnes began subbing out her starters for the final time. She would remove the last two with 3:47 to go in the game.
“I challenged them at halftime,” Barnes said. “And we talked about things that weren’t doing well and I think that they just came out with more of a sense of urgency.”
No Wildcat besides McDonald (30 minutes) played more than 24 minutes with senior Sam Thomas the only one to hit that mark.
Old problems haunted Arizona throughout the game. Rebounding. Outside shooting.
“Rebounding is a concern that that we had,” Barnes said. “Lack of focus on boxing out. I thought transition defense we could do a better job but these are things that we definitely can get better at. We didn’t shoot the ball well. I think we looked a little bit gassed, but we hadn’t played a game and practice doesn’t really simulate a game. So those are things we will get better at.”
The Wildcats ended up out-rebounding the smaller NAU by a margin of just two (48-46). They went 3-13 from outside with all three makes from McDonald.
Even with the shortcomings and rust, Arizona was just too much for a Lumberjack team that had four players see over 30 minutes each and didn’t get any scoring from their bench until the final minutes of the game.