A game between two top 10 teams should have had McKale Center rocking with thousands of screaming fans. On Wednesday, Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said she thought it could have sold out under different circumstances.
On Friday, the meeting between the No. 7 Wildcats and the No. 9 UCLA Bruins was eerily quiet. Even the approximately 30 family members who attended the opening game against NAU were missing after Arizona announced earlier in the week that family members would no longer be admitted.
Whether the lack of energy was a result of the environment, jitters, the quality of the opponent or a little of each, Arizona came out flat for the second straight game.
“It was an ugly win, but we found a way,” Barnes said.
They relied on Trinity Baptiste to help them find their way to a 68-65 win. The grad transfer led Arizona with 18 points and 11 rebounds, getting her first double-double as a Wildcat in just her second game. She added two blocks and a steal.
Aari McDonald had 17 points, extending her streak of games in double figures to 68 straight. That comprises her entire career at Arizona. She added four rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Bendu Yeaney also scored in double figures. Her night ended with 11 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, a block and a steal.
The slow start didn’t hurt too badly at first because UCLA matched Arizona’s lack of intensity. The problem for the Wildcats is that the Bruins woke up much earlier than the hometown team did.
UCLA took control in the early part of the second quarter, eventually building an 11-point lead. Arizona kept launching 3-pointers. And missing.
It also didn’t help that the Wildcats couldn’t stay out of foul trouble. McDonald had her second foul with just under five minutes to go in the first quarter. Cate Reese picked up two in the first half, as well. Both spent considerable time on the bench.
Baptiste took it upon herself to keep the Bruins within reach. In the first half, she had 11 points and 7 rebounds in 15 minutes of playing time to lead Arizona in both categories.
“I’m really excited,” Barnes said. “Trinity, Bendu (Yeaney), Shaina (Pellington)—they all brought us so much. I mean, if you think about today, it wasn’t Aari’s game first half. They were really congesting in the paint. It was tough for us to score. Cate was in foul trouble. Aari was in foul trouble. In the past we wouldn’t have won these games.”
With only eight players, UCLA didn’t have the same intensity for most of the second half. They went 7-30 from the field in the third quarter including 0-7 from 3. They struggled to even get the freebies, going 5-11 from the free throw line.
“We’re not in the same kind of shape we normally are in at this time,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said when asked whether she thought her team got fatigued. “You add the ups and downs of our roster that we’ve had, we’ve had a really difficult time in our training regimen, but there’s no excuses.”
The Wildcats finally took the lead on a 3-point shot from Helena Pueyo at 3:09 in the third quarter. The Bruins would come back and tie things up, but would never lead again.
“There was an emotional panic in the first few shots in the third quarter,” Close said. “We got good shots. We didn’t make them. And instead of sort of hunkering down and going, ‘Hey, let’s make one more pass, set one more screen. Let’s get a cleaner shot so it goes in,’ we started going one-on-one. And with a team with the athleticism and defensive prowess of Arizona, that’s not a good idea.”
It is Arizona’s third win over a top-10 team in its last four tries and marked Barnes’ 70th win as a head coach.