LAS VEGAS — Near the end of the third quarter of Arizona’s 86-73 win over Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals, Cate Reese stood in position for a defensive rebound when she was aggressively shoved to the floor by the Golden Bears’ Evelien Lutje Schipholt.
Reese landed hard on her right shoulder and in a moment of raw frustration, she slapped the floor with her left hand.
Though Reese earned a foul and a trip to the free throw line on the play, she clearly was not concerned with any consolation.
Reese wanted that rebound and for the first time all game, someone had denied her efforts. Moments later, the basketball gods offered Reese some retribution.
On Arizona’s opening possession of the fourth quarter, Reese banked in a corner three-pointer off the high glass, the basketball equivalent of hitting triple sevens on a slot machine. Reese finished the day with a career-high 30 points as the Wildcats clinched a trip to the semifinals to take on Oregon.
“We knew that coming out on Sunday (against Cal), we were really not ourselves,” Reese said. “We were not aggressive at all. Coming out (Friday) we knew we had to be the aggressors and we really did that.”
Two weeks ago, no one could have anticipated the sophomore’s breakout performance at the Pac-12 Tournament. Reese, a Type 1 diabetic, was hospitalized twice during Arizona’s trip to the Rocky Mountain schools after her blood sugar spiked to unsafe levels.
Reese had displayed flu-like symptoms before being treated, and though her blood sugar eventually returned to healthier levels, her energy was zapped for the Utah and Colorado contests.
When Arizona returned home to face Stanford and Cal last week, Reese was still on the mend. She seems to be doing better now.
“My blood sugar was hard to maintain when we were up at the mountain schools,” Reese said. “I was just trying to get back into how I normally feel and I feel really good right now. I’ve changed some stuff with how I’m handling it, and it’s working.”
The Wildcats will need another big outing from Reese on Saturday in order to upset the Ducks. Reese shot 8 for 11 from the field and scored 17 points in Arizona’s 85-52 blowout loss at Oregon last month.
Aari McDonald had a rough outing that night in Eugene as she knocked down 5-13 shots and committed seven turnovers. McDonald played much better against Oregon in a 71-64 January home loss where she scored 25 points. Reese had 13 points that night.
“We handled Arizona pretty well at home in our last game,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said. “They were a handful at their place. We have seen both against Arizona. They’re going to be fired up. I thought they looked good (Friday).”
Oregon looked vulnerable for stretches of its 79-59 quarterfinals win over Utah.
The Utes actually led the Ducks 21-18 after the first quarter, but Oregon unleashed eight 3s over the next 10 minutes to take a commanding lead into halftime. Utah fought its way back though and reduced Oregon’s lead to as little as 12 points with four minutes remaining.
“Oregon has the pressure to win the Pac-12 Tournament. We don’t have the pressure to win the Pac-12 Tournament,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “So we go into the game with zero pressure. And I’ll tell you, it is hard to play teams with zero pressure.”
If Reese can knock down shots from inside and outside the arc as she did against Cal, it’ll force Oregon to give her increased attention and potentially give McDonald more space to operate. Defensively, Arizona must contain Oregon’s array of shooters including All-American and three time Pac-12 Player of the Year Sabrina Ionescu.
Four Ducks drilled multiple 3s in Oregon’s win over Arizona last month, while Ionescu posted a triple-double.
“We’re going to have fun,” Barnes said. “We’re going to play basketball and try to win. If we don’t win, our season is not over. It doesn’t matter. I think that’s our take on it. We know they’re a very good team.”