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Takeaways from Arizona’s comeback win over Colorado

Boulder, Colo. - Colorado Buffaloes forward Maya Hollingshed (21) dribbles while being guarded by Arizona guards Shaina Pellington (1) and Helena Pueyo (13). Dec. 18, 2020 at the CU Events Center.
Photo by Cliff Grassmick

The Arizona Wildcats had another narrow come-from-behind victory over the Colorado Buffaloes on Friday night. It pushed the No. 6 Wildcats to 5-0 on the season and kept them atop the Pac-12 standings at 4-0, but it gave Adia Barnes plenty to be concerned about.

You can find the full recap of the game here. Keep reading for other takeaways.

Shaina Pellington asserts herself

After shaking up her starting lineup a bit by inserting Bendu Yeaney for Shaina Pellington Barnes said that she didn’t put much stress on who started and who came off the bench. Pellington’s performance on Friday was evidence in favor of that position.

“We were able to guard penetration relatively well with the exception of Shaina Pellington, who came in and was just trying to attack our feet,” Colorado head coach JR Payne said. “And I thought she did a great job of attacking us. I thought we, for the most part, with the rest of the ball club I thought we did a good job of containing the bounce, which was a goal for us.”

Pellington only played 11 minutes, but they were crucial second-half minutes, including the entirety of the final quarter. She scored all seven of her points in those final 10 minutes, as well as getting a steal.

Her penetration put her on the line four times, and she made three of those freebies. She also went 2-5 from the floor.

What did it mean? She ended up with a +/- of 12 for the game. That tied starter Sam Thomas for the team high, making them the only two Wildcats to end up with double-digit +/- for the night.

“Shaina played really well,” said senior guard Aari McDonald. “She came in—we were kind of stagnant on offense—she came in attacking downhill. I think she got fouled a couple times. We needed that. We went on the offensive scoring drought, so she came in and she gave us that momentum.”

Slow start strikes again

When Barnes changed her starting lineup, the major reason was to try to address the slow starts that had plagued Arizona in three of the first four games. It seemed to work against Arizona State last Thursday, when the Wildcats came out on fire and ran away with the game.

Then, Friday came around and Arizona got out of the gates slowly yet again.

Fifteen points in the first quarter. A dismal five points in the second. The Wildcats were saved mostly by the fact that the Buffaloes had a difficult second period as well.

“I don’t know what caused that,” Barnes said about the slow start. “I think just a little adversity on the road. Our first road trip. Things are different. I think Colorado is very confident against us, because they beat us here last year. So I think they really punched us in the face. Had us on our heels.”

Aari from deep!

One of the few criticisms of McDonald’s game that could be considered legitimate is that she has struggled from 3-point distance over her Arizona career. As a sophomore, she shot just 28.1 percent from beyond the arc. As a junior, long-distance shooting was an even bigger struggle at 27.8 percent.

Barnes has always insisted that her star point guard is a better shooter than the numbers show. Having to carry so much of the scoring load has regularly put her in the position of being forced to take shots late in the clock. Catch-and-shoot has been a luxury McDonald has not been afforded.

In the early going, McDonald seems to have found her way, proving her coach right. Of the Wildcats who shot at least 10 3-pointers, she ranks second on the team in 3-point percentage behind only Helena Pueyo.

McDonald’s numbers with the long ball aren’t eye-popping overall, but they are solid—and a closer look tells an even more promising picture.

Her percentage sits at 33.3, but that number is dragged down by a 1-6 performance against UCLA and a 1-5 showing versus USC. In her other three games, she is shooting 39 percent (11-28).