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Bench sparks Arizona in rout of Idaho in final tune-up before Christmas break, Stanford game

Mike Mattina/Arizona Athletics

Arizona’s bench did the heavy lifting against Idaho on Wednesday, accounting for 58 points in the 96-42 victory.

Shaina Pellington and Helena Pueyo led the Wildcats with 16 and 14 points, respectively. Freshman Lauren Ware chipped in with 10 points and 13 rebounds—her second double-double as a Wildcat

Starters Cate Reese (12 points), Aari McDonald (11 points), and pretty much everyone else joined the fun too, as 12 of Arizona’s 13 scholarship players scored at least one bucket.

The Wildcats (7-0) shot 53 percent from the field and 11 for 29 from 3. They turned 16 Idaho turnovers into 22 points, 19 coming via fastbreak. The Vandals, who were picked to win the Big Sky, shot just 26 percent.

“The plan was to distribute the minutes as even as I could, get multiple players in double digits because that’s what it’s all about,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “We can do that now and we get experience, and we see how people perform in game situations to earn more minutes for the future. I mean, 58 bench points, we have never had that many bench points in all the years I’ve been here and hopefully we’ll have it again.”

It was Arizona’s final tune-up before next Friday’s heavyweight home game against No. 1 Stanford, and Barnes thought it served its purpose. She was impressed by her team’s attention to detail on both ends of the court, noting that it took smart shots and communicated well on defense, particularly in transition.

“I think we played great, I think it was a very good game. I think that our players applied the stuff we didn’t practice last week and our emphasis on taking good songs and playing for each other and I think that was evident today with 19 assists and eight turnovers,” Barnes said. “It’s hard playing against a zone for 40 minutes. It’s really difficult guarding a team with a bunch of like guards. It basically was 5-out a lot. I thought we did a really good job of guarding our person, rotating a lot. ... That was a good offensive game, it was a good defensive game. It was a good game to give us momentum going into Christmas break.”

Arizona outscored Idaho by double figures in every quarter and really pulled away in the second when it outscored the Vandals, 33-11.

Pueyo buried all four of her 3s in that period, tying her career high. They were part of a 16-0 run and then a 24-0 run.

“I think I was on fire a little bit,” she said.

Later it was Australian guard Tara Manumaleuga who heated up. The sophomore swished three triples in an 80-second span late in the fourth quarter.

Her nine points tied her career high.

“I love to see everybody converting and contributing to the team’s stuff,” McDonald said. “I think if we keep playing like this, we’ll be scary good.”

McDonald had a game-high six assists and just one turnover, seeing her focus on limiting the giveaways pay off.

The bench made it easy for her.

“They came in when they got subbed in and they were always ready to shoot and so I had to keep finding them,” McDonald said. “And Pueyo had the hot hand so I had to keep giving it to her and she kept converting. ... I don’t know what they did today but they got to do the same routine. We need that for next week’s game.”

Arizona also posted its biggest rebounding margin of the season—a whopping 54-28 advantage. Yes, Idaho is a small team, but Barnes was happy with the way her team boxed out.

“We have a conscious effort to rebound right now,” McDonald said. “I mean, coaches get on us every day. That’s something we work on every day our practice no matter what because we know that’s one of our weaknesses right now. And we just gotta keep having that same mindset. We have to get the ball and it’s the effort. It has to be there every time and we’re capable of doing it. Today showed that.”

McDonald’s 11 points were her lowest scoring total of the season, but they were just enough to extend her double-digit scoring streak to 73 games and move her into fifth on Arizona’s all-time scoring list.

“I didn’t know till after the game, but glory to God,” she said. “And this wouldn’t be possible without my teammates and my coaches putting me in the position to be successful to score. I’m just humbled.”

A Christmas surprise

Families are not allowed to watch Arizona’s games in person these days due to coronavirus pandemic, but they found a way to make their presence felt in McKale Center on Wednesday.

UA’s five starters were introduced by their families virtually on the videoboard. Here are those intros and the players’ priceless reactions:

“It was so touching,” McDonald said. “I kind of had to catch myself. I’m like, ‘dang.’ I look at my parents, I missed them and I’m like, ‘All right, I gotta snap out of it. We got to get back to being motivated.’ But I’m so happy that our coaches did that. It’s the little things.”

Time for a (socially distanced) break!

Per NCAA rules, the Wildcats now have three mandatory days off to enjoy Christmas break. Normally, Barnes would invite the players to her home for a team dinner, but that won’t be happening this year due to the pandemic.

Instead, she plans to spend time with her family that now includes a three-month-old daughter.

“We’ll be together, probably cook a good Italian meal and hang out with the baby,” Barnes said. “It’s my daughter’s first Christmas, so that’ll be kind of fun, even though she doesn’t know what the heck’s going on.”

The players will stay in Tucson during the break. And while they won’t have to do COVID-19 testing in the morning for a few days, they are still advised to stay away from high-risk situations. That includes activities that would normally be considered harmless like Christmas shopping and dining in a restaurant.

Barnes said the team is doing a Secret Santa gift exchange.

“I think mentally and physically it’s good for a break,” she said. “Ideally, you don’t want someone sitting on the couch watching Netflix for all three days for sure, but we can’t be involved in anything per NCAA rules—and we’re compliant here—so they’ll be able to go on their own.”

Still, with the top team in the country set to visit McKale Center next week, Barnes hopes their time off includes some basketball.

“Getting into the gym and shooting a little is important and then coming back ready to play,” Barnes said. “Mentally and physically it’s a long season and we’re gonna play in a lot of basketball, there’s a lot of hard games, nothing’s easy in the Pac-12, and for us it gets real in a week.”

Postgame interviews

Adia Barnes

Adia Barnes post Idaho

Adia Barnes was pleased with Arizona's attention to detail in its 96-42 win over Idaho

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Aari McDonald and Helena Pueyo

Aari McDonald and Helena Pueyo post Idaho

Hear what Aari McDonald (11 points) and Helena Pueyo (14 points) said after Arizona's 96-42 win over Idaho

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Wednesday, December 23, 2020