It will be a battle for third place in the Pac-12 on Thursday when the No. 11 Arizona Wildcats host the No. 10 Oregon Ducks. It will also be an extremely rare opportunity for the upstart Wildcats to play on ESPN. Their last appearance came all the way back in 2005.
“It’s a big game because Oregon is the only team in the Pac-12 that I have yet to beat in my career here,” senior forward Sam Thomas said. “So hopefully we can get the win. And for it to be on ESPN, that’ll just be even better.”
Both teams enter tied for third at 6-2 in Pac-12 play, and both have dropped two of their last three. Arizona had losses to No. 1 Stanford and No. 25 Washington State wrapped around a win over California.
Oregon lost to No. 8 UCLA and No. 1 Stanford in consecutive games before righting the ship against California. The Ducks had not suffered back-to-back losses since February 2019.
Both Oregon head coach Kelly Graves and Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said that they were learning experiences. Graves was much more satisfied with the effort in the Ducks’ last loss than Barnes was with the Wildcats in theirs, but she still saw a silver lining.
“The challenge for us is to see how we respond to it, see how we respond after a loss to Washington State and see how we can match up and defend and be disciplined in our actions,” Barnes said. “And that’s going to kind of tell us where we’re at. And I’d rather have these tests in January, because then we can work on things and get better in February, March, April. But it’s a test to kind of evaluate stuff, I think for both teams.”
Part of that discipline will need to happen on the inside. Both Cate Reese and Trinity Baptiste racked up two fouls in the first half against the Cougars on Sunday, although Baptiste got both of hers on the offensive end. Thomas fouled out halfway through the fourth quarter, leaving one of Arizona’s best defenders on the bench in the crucial part of the game.
As a result, WSU sophomore center Bella Murekatete had one of her best games of the year. This week, the Wildcats will face Nyara Sabally and, possibly, Sedona Prince in the post.
“She’s used on a lot of middle on-ball (screens) or wing-ball (screens), she rolls,” Barnes said of Sabally. “I think she’s got a really good high post shot, so a lot of times she’ll pick to the high post, like the elbow area and then she’ll hit shots. Or she can drive right or left. So I think just guarding her inside, we have to go guard her. She’s really good.”
As for Prince, she was injured in early December and hasn’t played since the Ducks had their close call against the Cougars on Dec. 21. She’s been back at practice since before their trip to the Bay Area and Graves has said he expects her back in games sometime soon. So does Barnes.
“She’s 6-7,” Barnes said. “She’s got a beautiful fadeaway jumper inside that you can’t guard. You can’t guard a 6-7 fadeaway jumper. Just alters shots inside, brings some more experience. Very talented player.”
For one Wildcat, Thursday will be a reunion of sorts.
“(Prince) used to be teammates with Cate Reese when they played AAU,” Barnes said. “So they have a relationship. They’re both from Texas, so it’s going to be good.”
Whereas Arizona likes to attack the rim, the Ducks have great shooters like always, especially Maryland transfer Taylor Mikesell who is making 44.8 percent of her 3-pointers. They also have an extremely talented group of freshmen headlined by point guard Te-Hina PaoPao.
Senior Erin Boley is leading Oregon in scoring with 12.5 points per game, one of four players averaging double figures. Assuming she is ready to play, Prince isn’t far behind with 8.7 PPG.
That’s a stark difference from Arizona, which leans heavily on Reese (12.4 PPG) and Aari McDonald (18.8 PPG), their lone double-figure scorers.
“It should be a good game,” Barnes said. “We both have fun styles. We’re different, but it should be it should be interesting matchups. I think they’re younger, but they have a lot of talent. They really spread the floor. I think it’s a game that obviously people want to see. Being on ESPN is an honor, and it gives you more national recognition. So people from all over the country can watch Aari play for the first time, can watch Lauren (Ware), can watch Cate, Trinity. So I think it gives you a national recognition, and it puts your program on the map. It’s great for Arizona women’s basketball and the University of Arizona when they’re talking about us on the national stage.”
How to watch or follow the game
- Date/Time: Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 at 5 p.m. MST
- Location: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: Derrick Palmer will have the call on KTUC 1400 AM or online at TuneIn
- Stats: In-game stats are available on Arizona Live Stats
- Twitter: Follow us at @AZDesertSwarm. You can also follow our editor at @RKelapire and our reporter at @KimDoss71 for coverage during the game and throughout the season.