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5 takeaways from Arizona women’s basketball’s win over ASU

Mike Mattina/Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball team destroyed ASU 65-37 on Thursday to improve to 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12. Our recap and postgame interviews can be found HERE and below are some additional takeaways from the victory.

Arizona owns the rivalry again

Arizona has now won three straight over ASU for the first time since 2000. Thursday’s win was also its biggest margin of victory since 1998, when Adia Barnes was a senior at the UA.

After she graduated, Arizona endured a stretch from 2005 to 2018 in which it lost 25 of 28 Territorial Cup games. Those days are long behind them.

“When I was a player I never lost to ASU. We definitely owned the state back then, so I want to have the Territorial Cup,” Barnes said. “We had a sweep last year and I felt like we could have a sweep again this year. They’re a good team. They’re always scrappy. They’re tough defensively. But so are we. So it was important to have a good game today. ... We’re back. We’re here.”

A starting lineup change worked

Arizona got off to slow starts in each of its first three games, but bucked that trend against ASU. The Wildcats led 8-4 midway through the first quarter and 15-9 by the end of it.

Barnes changed the starting lineup, replacing Shaina Pellington with Bendu Yeaney. That immediately paid off when Yeaney opened Arizona’s scoring—and the offensive flow—by sinking a 3 from the wing.

“She came in, hit that first dagger, and then people were following after for 3, so we were able to pull them out of the zone,” said Sam Thomas, who wound up snapping an 0 for 9 slump from 3.

Those were Yeaney’s only points of the night and her stat line was pretty bare as a whole, but her energy was vital in a dominant first half that saw the Wildcats race out to a 34-18 lead.

As the final seconds of the second quarter ticked away, Yeaney came out of nowhere to grab an offensive rebound and draw a foul. She missed both free throws, kind of a microcosm of her night in a way.

“Bendu comes in, gets on the floor, she gets tough plays, she makes someone turn the ball over at the end of the half,” Barnes said. “Big plays that don’t always show up on the stat sheet, but they’re very important for our team and our momentum.”

Helena Pueyo took Yeaney’s role as the first guard off the bench and made contributions on both ends, filling up the stat sheet with two 3s, four steals, three rebounds and two assists.

It was big considering Arizona hasn’t been able to get Pellington going yet. The Oklahoma transfer had five turnovers in her first eight minutes on the court.

Barnes remains confident the former Big 12 Freshman of the Year will find her groove.

“I don’t put a lot of stock into who starts and who doesn’t,” Barnes said. “We have eight or nine capable starters, so sometimes it’s matchups, sometimes it’s just trying to have a different pace. We’ve had some slow starts, so I thought it would be a good idea—after Shaina and I talked—for her to come in at the 1 off the bench. I thought she did a really good job. So there wasn’t much thought behind it. It’s just shaking things up in our favor for matchups.”

The defense is back

Arizona’s defense struggled in its last game (vs. USC) but it looked like its old, dominant self against ASU, holding the Sun Devils to 27 percent shooting. Things got so bad for ASU that it finished with nine more turnovers (23) than made field goals (14).

Arizona never relented, either. ASU scored nine or fewer points in three of four quarters, including the fourth when the Sun Devils could only muster seven points despite Arizona emptying its bench.

The ball pressure was suffocating and a young Sun Devil team was wholly unprepared.

“I think this game we really showed that we can have our defense as well as we did last year,” Thomas said. “And I think we kind of realized ASU is also a really new team that graduated a lot of seniors last year, so they’re playing a bunch of freshmen or people who haven’t played as many minutes. So we knew that we had to keep the pressure on to get them out of their game because they’re still young and they’re still learning.”

You can’t ask for a better leader than Aari

Aari McDonald is a great player, maybe the best in the country. She had 22 points and made five 3s, including three in a 50-second stretch that gave Arizona a 16-point lead in the second quarter. Moments like that are easy to notice.

But what makes her so special is the little things she does. She dives for loose balls and took at least two charges Thursday, sacrificing her body for the betterment of the team.

It’s contagious, and why she’s perfect to be the face of Arizona women’s basketball, which prides itself on grit, toughness and hard-nosed defense.

“When you have your best player diving on the floor, you have your best player taking charges, then the rest of the team does it,” Barnes said. “I value those things. We do those things. We talk about those things. And Aari just does all of those things. And that’s why she’s a great leader. That’s why she’s helped this program get to different heights.”

It was a true team win

In the ultimate display of depth, the Wildcats got all 13 scholarship players in the game and saw 10 of them score, including two freshmen who recorded their first career points.

Spanish post Marta Garcia buried a mid-range jumper off a nice bounce pass by Yeaney. Later, Turkish guard Derin Erdogan, who also got some run in the second quarter, sank a corner 3 to make it 61-32 with 4:13 left in the fourth.

“That’s exciting,” McDonald said. “That’s like, ‘OK, our little freshies scoring.’ We like that and we want to keep seeing that. We just keep encouraging them. It just started with practice, keep getting better, do what you do in practice in a game and you definitely seen the translation today.”

Barnes loved how wild the bench went when Garcia and Erdogan had their big moments. She was happy to see their work pay off too.

“It was awesome because I see them every day in practice,” Barnes said. “Marta is a really good player. So in Spain, what they do is they score and they cheer for themselves. So all the players were laughing because she had a little cheer, but I thought it was so cute and really a special moment. And what I love is we have great chemistry. That’s something we value in this program...and that’s the kind of team we are. We’re selfless. And we celebrate each other.

“Derin, we put her in a tough situation in the first half, she responded well. She has personality. She’s not scared. So all the things I see in practice, she applied today. She gave us good minutes. And then usually in the past, we would sub and we would go down a level. I thought today we subbed and we maintained what we needed to maintain. I’m really proud of the bench. I think this is a great team win for us.”