LAS VEGAS — The easy national story about the Arizona Wildcats is that Aari McDonald is great. On Saturday, she made it easy for everyone to write that story again.
McDonald put up 34 points, but the well-oiled offensive machine that is the Oregon Ducks and the Pac-12 Tournament’s all-time scoring leader Sabrina Ionescu prevailed, advancing to the Pac-12 Tournament championship game with an 88-70 win.
McDonald was once again great, slicing through the Ducks’ defense to get to the rim time and again. But in the early going, it was as likely to be Dominique McBryde or Helena Pueyo or Sam Thomas hitting a big shot when Oregon was threatening to pull away.
The Wildcats reeled them back in several times, cutting the lead as close as a single point. In the end, it just wasn’t enough, as the top-seeded Ducks finally pulled away in the final quarter.
McDonald led all scorers, outscoring Ionescu by three points. She also had five rebounds and five assists, but that wasn’t what she was thinking about after the game.
After the final buzzer, as her team was set to leave the floor, she said her brother motioned her to come over.
“He had his phone on,” McDonald said. “And I’m like, ‘What is he doing?’ And then I saw my boyfriend, Devon.”
Devon Brewer, a former safety on the Arizona football team and fellow Fresno native, had McDonald’s friends and family holding up letters spelling out, “Aarion, will you marry me?”
It was enough to make her lose the anger over the loss, McDonald said.
“We lost, and that sucks,” senior forward Tee Tee Starks said. “But one of my best friends just got engaged.”
McDonald’s 34-point performance marked the second straight day a Wildcat put up at least 30 points in the Pac-12 Tournament. Cate Reese, who had 30 in Friday’s win over Cal, had 13 points and five rebounds against Oregon. McBryde ended with nine points, and Thomas had eight.
The Ducks shot 53 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3. In the fourth quarter, they were especially efficient finding the open shooters and knocking down the shots every time Arizona threatened to make a run. Oregon knocked down 4 of 7 shots from distance over the final 10 minutes, turning an 11-point lead into an 18-point victory.
“You play a zone, they have shooters,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “You play man-to-man, they get you in rotation.”
The Wildcats are off next week before they find out their NCAA Tournament fate on Monday, March 16. They are expected to be a top-16 overall seed and host the first two rounds of the tournament.