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Arizona handles USC for fifth straight win

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A rare sweep of the LA schools

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 02 Women’s USC at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cate Reese had 18 points and 17 rebounds and Aari McDonald overcame a slow start to drop 20 points and eight assists as No. 16 Arizona beat USC 73-57 on Sunday for its fifth straight win and first sweep of the LA schools in 15 years.

The Wildcats improve to 18-3 overall and 7-3 in the Pac-12 heading into road games at No. 3 Oregon and No. 10 Oregon State.

“I’m really impressed with how our team played this weekend,” said Arizona coach Adia Barnes. “Just to get a sweep in the conference is huge. A huge game against UCLA on Friday, and then to follow up after being so high on Friday and maintain our focus and get a win today against a good USC team, I’m proud of us.”

Arizona led by as many as 14 in the first half and shot 63 percent in the second half to pull away after USC narrowed the deficit to four heading into the final quarter.

“It wasn’t the prettiest game, the first half was very bad...but then I think we found a way to lock down,” Barnes said.

Dominique McBryde poured in 10 of her 14 points in the fourth, her first double-figure scoring outing this season. The senior went 6 for 9 from the field, including a 3-pointer that put Arizona up 57-50 with 8:21 to play.

“It felt amazing,” McBryde said. “I really wasn’t doing my best on the defensive end, so I wanted to make it up on offense, and my position coach kept telling me when I was out to look at the basket, attack them.”

McDonald didn’t sink her first field goal until she opened the third quarter with a layup, snapping an 0-for-6 start. She quickly drove for two more baskets to extend Arizona’s lead to 39-27 with 7:39 left in the third.

Reese opened the fourth with two free throws, then made two more to make it 61-51 with 6:53 left. She went 6 for 10 from the field and 6 for 6 from the free-throw line, recording her first double-double since Jan. 10.

“When Kayla Overbeck was in foul trouble, we saw that Angel Jackson was defending her, we tried to isolate her and I thought she did a really good job responding,” Barnes said.

A 10-0 run with baskets from McDonald, McBryde and Sam Thomas broke the game open, extending the lead to 73-55 with 2:04 left. McDonald capped it by flinging a one-handed pass to a rolling McBryde for a layup for her eighth and final assist.

McDonald also had six steals and only two turnovers, tying her season low for the second straight game.

“That’s remarkable,” Barnes said. “That’s what she has to do to be at the next level.”

With McDonald struggling to find her shot early on, Arizona used a balanced attack to build a big lead. Seven different Wildcats scored in the first quarter alone. Helena Pueyo concluded the period by driving and kicking to fellow Spaniard Lucia Alonso for a corner 3 that gave Arizona a 18-8 lead.

The advantage grew to 24-10 before USC, which had the opposite of a balanced attack, finally got Alissa Pili some help.

After the freshman accounted for USC’s first 10 points, Endyia Rogers, Aliyah Jeune and Alyson Miura buried back-to-back-to-back 3s to make it a five-point game midway through the second quarter.

Miura hit again from the corner to make it 28-24, but Thomas answered with a long 3 to extend the lead to 31-25 at the break. Both teams shot under 35 percent in the first half.

“We were just taking bad shots,” Barnes said. “I think we all kind of wanted to ignite us, it wasn’t a selfish thing. It was just a rush thing. But I thought it was much better team basketball in second half and that’s how we play. I just told them we were a little bit soft at halftime.”

The Wildcats began the third quarter on a 6-0 run to briefly restore a double-digit lead, but USC won the frame 21-19. Pili scored at the buzzer to pull USC within 50-46 to begin the fourth and finished with 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting, Arizona countering her strength with length.

The Wildcats outrebounded USC 35-27 and won the turnover battle 14-9. Sophomore Semaj Smith had eight boards in 12 minutes off the bench.

“She continues to be one of our best rebounders,” Barnes said.

Barnes said the Wildcats have “nothing to lose” as they head to Oregon, telling her players after Sunday’s win that any victories against those top-10 teams will be a bonus. She admitted she didn’t expect her team to be 7-3 in Pac-12 play or pushing for a top-three finish.

“But now that we’re there, we’re hungry for more,” she said. “We feel like we can beat anybody in the Pac-12 Tournament or moving forward, whether it’s on the road or at home.”

Smaller attendance figure, as expected

The attendance in McKale Center was announced as 5,027, the fewest fans the Wildcats have drawn in conference play. It was expected.

“Over 5,000 people on Super Bowl Sunday, that says a lot about women’s basketball here,” Barnes said. “So I think if there was ever a chance for us to host (the NCAA Tournament) or something, I think we’ll fill out McKale, no doubt.”

Postgame interviews