Punching first is something Adia Barnes and her players talk about often. On Sunday afternoon, that’s exactly what the Arizona Wildcats did. The Washington State Cougars didn’t quite know what hit them out of the gates as Arizona defeated them 72-57.
“It starts with pregame,” Aari McDonald said. “Coach Barnes emphasized that Washington State is a team you don’t want to sleep on and you can’t let them in the game, so we came out with energy.”
That energy included a full-court press that forced the Cougars into several turnovers. Arizona’s first points came off a McDonald steal. Before long, five-foot-six McDonald forced a five-second call guarding Borislava Hristova, who stands six feet tall. Minutes later, the Wildcats forced a backcourt violation.
At the end of the first quarter, Arizona had forced seven Cougar turnovers and was up 26-13.
After a strong night from the 3-point line on Friday night, the Wildcats started just where they left off on Sunday afternoon. By the 6:33 mark in the first quarter, three Wildcats had already connected from outside. As a team, the Wildcats went 10 for 19 from outside for the game.
Sam Thomas hit the Wildcats’ first 3-pointer, already on her way to one of her best games of the season. She had 18 points in a very efficient game while also handling the ball and providing her usual defense.
“She always plays great defense,” Barnes said, “but to be 3 for 5 from 3, 6 for 10 (overall), four rebounds, six assists, one turnover, four steals. I mean super awesome game. We’re just so much better than Sam is confident.”
McDonald led the game with 21 points. She also went 3 for 5 from beyond the arc while adding six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Hristova led the Cougars with 18 points on 6 for 9 shooting. She also hit all six of her free throws.
The concern for the Wildcats was that the Cougars were connecting on their shots when they were able to shoot. Washington State hit 54.5 percent of their shots in the opening quarter.
The difference was that Arizona was able to get more looks at the basket. While WSU hit 6 of 11 over the period, UA was going 11 for 16.
Things cooled off a bit for Arizona in the second quarter, but they still connected on 42.9 percent of their shots. On defense, they were only able to get two steals after coming up with five in the first quarter.
The Cougars also settled down. They were able to match their opponent’s shots over the second 10 minutes and get to the line four times. They couldn’t make a dent in the deficit from the first quarter, though. When the half ended, WSU still trailed by 13.
The Cougars continued to play the Wildcats close over the second half, but they were never able to recover from the opening-quarter deficit. Arizona only outscored Washington State by two points over the final 30 minutes of the game, but comfortably won by 15.
The game was attended by former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Gabrielle Giffords, and her husband Mark Kelly. Giffords took part in the “bang the drum” festivities to celebrate Arizona’s victory.