It was a big occasion for the Arizona Wildcats, playing their first regular season game ever on ESPN. They came out looking to make the most of it and show the world that they had learned something from their last-second loss to Washington State last week.
“The last game at Washington State, it really stung,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “We played a really good half there. And then the second half happened and we just kind of laid down and we let them take the game.”
There was no such laying down this week. Arizona held on, stunning the No. 10 Ducks by a score of 57-41 in a game the Wildcats led by as many as 23 points in the second half. It was the fewest points scored by Oregon since Oregon State beat them 43-40 on Jan. 27, 2017.
“I’ve never seen Oregon players flustered like that,” senior guard Aari McDonald said. “But, I mean, everybody was just locked in tonight and everybody wanted this one really bad. So I can honestly say we executed the game plan, we played together and we played, actually, I want to say close to 40 minutes of good basketball, which is something we’ve never done before.”
Oregon head coach Kelly Graves agreed with that assessment, saying he hadn’t seen a team that looked that scared since community college.
The win gave Arizona sole possession of third place in the Pac-12 as they moved to 7-2 in the league and 9-2 overall. Oregon fell to 6-3 in Pac-12 play and 9-3 overall.
The Wildcats were led by McDonald with 16 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals. Trinity Baptiste also had a huge game, with a stat line of 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal.
They were joined in double figures by Sam Thomas with 10 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals. For the senior, it marked her first win over the Ducks—the only Pac-12 team she had never tasted victory against.
It was a hot start for the Wildcats that kicked off with a Cate Reese 3-pointer, just like the game against the Cougars. Arizona kept pushing, turning the young Oregon Ducks over on the defensive end and making them pay on the offensive end.
The Wildcats forced Oregon into 23 turnovers, scoring 26 points off of them.
With 2:05 left to go in the first quarter, the usually high-scoring Ducks had just two points. The Wildcats had 17.
It’s something the ‘Cats had experienced in games against Oregon in recent years, but they had always been on the receiving end of the blowout. Could Arizona maintain it?
As suited a game between the No. 10 and No. 11 teams in the country, Oregon punched back to start the second quarter, eventually cutting the lead to seven. Just like last week, Reese picked up two fouls and headed to the bench.
Against the Cougars, the Wildcats had allowed a game well in hand to get close by giving the opponent life towards the end of the half. This time, Arizona put their foot down, pushing the lead back to 14 points when the halftime buzzer sounded. McDonald already had 14 points to lead all scorers.
Could they keep it up? The answer was a decided yes. By the end of the third quarter, Arizona had a 19-point lead built on the back of one Oregon turnover after another. The Wildcats picked off pass after pass, leading to points on the offensive end.
With the game well in hand, Barnes was able to sub in most of her bench. Baptiste was the lone starter still on the floor as the Wildcats sealed the win.
“I’m proud of the way we had a good start, but I think from a national perspective, I think this was a good statement win because a lot of people don’t see the Pac-12,” Barnes said. “We’re not on ESPN, just overall as a conference. So just to make a statement and I think for Arizona to bounce back after a tough loss on the road at Washington State...it showed character.”