Both games were close this weekend. The problem for the Arizona Wildcats was that both games should not have been close.
Arizona beat a Top 5 team and reached the highest of highs on Friday night. Then, Sunday afternoon, they returned to the court and lost to the Pac-12’s last-place team in a performance that left a lot to be desired.
The Wildcats need to work on late-game situations
In both games, the ball was in Aari McDonald’s hands as the clock was ticking down in regulation. That’s where the ball should be, but in both games she made the same mistake.
Instead of driving towards the basket, McDonald chose to take jumpers. She missed both. In the Stanford game, at least that jumper was open. Against Cal, it was not only well-defended, it was off-balance.
“The only shot I didn’t like, I don’t mind Aari taking an open shot at the end, but we needed to get to the rim,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said after the Stanford win. “Because at that time, the end of regulation, it is an open shot, but you have a chance going to the rim. No one can stop her going to the rim. You may get blocked but you have a chance to get the foul. And so that’s the part of learning and becoming a top team in the country, you’re able to execute and know when to do that.”
Not only was that adjustment not made between Friday and Sunday, but McDonald waited very late in the clock on both occasions and the ability to get a putback was limited.
On Friday, the shot attempt went up with just five seconds left to go. On Sunday, McDonald started her dribble a little earlier. The shot went up with seven on the clock, but once again she did not attempt to get to the rim.
Considering the number of whistles in the game, that was an even bigger error. This crew was not afraid to put players on the line, even late in the game and with the score very close.
Making matters worse, only Sam Thomas attempted to rebound the ball.
Barnes has said that she values transition defense over offensive rebounding, so crashing the boards is not a big principle in her system. Her players may have fallen into what was comfortable rather than what was required.
With no one else going for the rebound, Thomas had to reach back and try to get an off- balance putback. The fact that she even got her hand on the ball was impressive. That she wasn’t successful was expected given the situation.
Returning to the topics of officiating and getting the simple things right, fouling jump-shooters has been a problem for Arizona in a few games. In the home loss to Oregon State, the Wildcats fouled the Beavers’ 3-point shooters twice. Against Cal, they upped that to three times.
“Were all of them fouls? No,” Barnes said. “But after refs are calling a couple fouls, you have to be smarter. Those are mental mistakes that we don’t make. We did that three times in the game, which were costly.”
So, what’s the fix? After close losses to Oregon and Oregon State in McKale Center, Barnes pledged to work on boxing out. Players who missed them in practice had to run. That seemed to help. Now, it’s the box out on free throws and fouling 3-point shooters.
“We’re going to work in the next week on some annoying things like free throw box out, positioning, not fouling jump-shooters” Barnes said. “We don’t do it, but we continue to make those same mistakes. People can’t play if they do those things.”
What it takes to become a Top-10 team
Once again, a bad loss will keep the Wildcats from climbing into the Top 10. They haven’t been there since Barnes wore the uniform. For two straight weeks, they have failed to seize the opportunity.
“Our players didn’t understand,” Barnes said upon returning from the Colorado loss. “If we would have probably had a sweep that weekend, we could have been a top-10 team. So I think that not understanding this is really important or let’s really show up to this game because it’s that important, it’s just as important as a Stanford game. I don’t think they have a perspective like that.”
After the Cal loss, Barnes again felt her team failed to understand the big picture and the importance of getting up for everyone. Her players agreed.
“I think we just came out thinking that we can just beat (Cal) knowing that they were one of the last teams in the conference,” senior forward Dominique McBryde said. “We just can’t do that. We’ve got to play like we played against Stanford. We’ve got to play like we did against Oregon State, play as if we’re playing another top-five team in the conference. This is the Conference of Champions and we just can’t have that.”