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5 takeaways from Arizona’s statement win over Oregon

Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics

The 11th-ranked Arizona Wildcats routed the 10th-ranked Oregon Ducks 57-41 on Thursday in McKale Center to improve to 9-2 overall and 7-2 in the Pac-12, overtaking the Ducks for third place in the ultra-competitive conference.

Our recap and postgame interviews can be found here and below are some additional takeaways.

That was so close to being 40 minutes of Arizona defense

This was Arizona’s first ESPN game since 2005 but it was Oregon, the team that is featured on the Worldwide Leader quite often, that looked overwhelmed under the spotlight. Their coach Kelly Graves said it was the most frightened he’s seen his team since he coached in community college.

The young Ducks got off to a brutal start, trailing 17-2 out of the gate, and never really got a grip on Arizona’s press defense. The Ducks scored 15 points or less in all four quarters. They were down by double figures almost the entire night aside from a brief stretch in the second quarter when they made three of four shots to trim a 12-point deficit to seven.

Arizona held the Ducks to 33% shooting and forced 23 turnovers. Keep in mind this was a team that was shooting 48%—the best mark in the Pac-12—and only averaging 11 turnovers per contest heading into the night. Thursday was the Ducks’ lowest scoring output since the 2016-17 season.

We know Arizona is capable of playing defense like this, of making great offensive teams look pedestrian. But before Thursday they hadn’t been able to do it for 40 minutes.

This was as close as it gets. Even a tough self-critic like Aari McDonald could admit it.

“We controlled the game overall because we had them flustered and I’ve never seen Oregon players flustered like that,” the UA point guard said. “But 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.”

That it happened after a tough overtime loss at Washington State was a big deal to UA head coach Adia Barnes.

“From a national perspective, I think it was a good statement win,” she said. “For us, Arizona, to bounce back from a tough loss on the road and show character and not lose our confidence was really important for us.”

Sam had the right mentality

Coming into the game I wrote how Sam Thomas had only taken one free throw all season and almost 60 percent of her shot attempts were 3-pointers.

So Barnes challenged her to be more aggressive and Thomas answered the bell by getting to the line seven times (and making six) against Oregon.

The senior forward finished with 10 points on three shots, her third double-figure scoring night of the season. Her two makes were 2-pointers, including a tough and-one layup through contact.

Thomas was lights out on defense as usual. But when she is scoring on top of that? She’s so good that Barnes said she wishes she could clone Thomas and keep her on the team forever.

“That’s the Sam we need every game and Sam’s capable of doing that every game,” the UA coach said. “Without Sam and Trinity (Baptiste) stepping up today, we don’t win this game. I thought they both did great on isolations. I thought they both did a good job of directing our offense and helping us get to the backside. Just a really good performance by those two.”

Baptiste? More like Bap-beast

When Barnes landed Baptiste last offseason, she believed the Virginia Tech transfer would add a toughness in the paint that they had otherwise been lacking.

It was definitely needed in this game because Oregon had much taller bigs and Cate Reese was in deep foul trouble most of the night, picking up her fourth relatively early in the third quarter.

Baptiste did a lot of the little things you would expect from a physical force like she is, but she made at least two plays that were awing. She sank a one-legged fadeaway over the arm of an Oregon big and outmuscled three Ducks for a one-handed offensive rebound that resulted in two made free throws.

“She loves the weight room, she could be in there every day if she wanted to,” Thomas said. “Yeah, it’s definitely nice to have a player who just wants to get down there and body with people and obviously not pick up fouls, which is really helpful too.”

Baptiste showed she is also dangerous away from the basket, draining a pair of triples. She finished the night with 14 points and six boards, tied with freshman Lauren Ware for the most on the team.

“One of our focuses and one of the emphasis we wanted today was to pound the ball inside. I felt like we had an advantage with Trinity and Cate on the post,” Barnes said. “So it wasn’t Cate’s day, that’s OK she was in foul trouble, so Trinity stepped up. I thought she did a great job of playing inside and out. So on isolations on the block, she did a really good job. She had patience, she scored. She got us going early and then later on she stepped out and hit her 3.”

What’s up with the free throw shooting?

Arizona’s free throw percentage has dipped from the high 70s last season to 70% this season. The Wildcats went just 16 for 24 (67%) at the line against the Ducks.

For a team that has struggled offensively at times, that’s too many points going to waste. Barnes agrees:

Arizona’s celebration was muted, which kinda says a lot about the state of the program

Barnes believes this game would have been sold out if fans would have been allowed in McKale. Maybe it’s a good thing they weren’t.

Barnes said the lack of electricity in the building made Thursday’s game feel like any other game. The way the Wildcats celebrated after the game—or, rather, didn’t—mirrored that.

But maybe it’s just a sign of where the Wildcats are in their climb to the top—the point where they expect to win these big games, not just be competitive.

After all, the Wildcats are 5-3 in their last eight teams top-10 teams. Before that, they hadn’t beaten a team of that caliber since Feb. 2004.

“It’s a regular game,” McDonald said. “You know, we lace up our shoes just like Oregon does. No pressure at all.”