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Bendu Yeaney survives injury scare, leads No. 10 Arizona past Utah in night full of milestones

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Simon Asher / Arizona Athletics

Bendu Yeaney had her best game as a Wildcat and survived an injury scare on Friday as No. 10 Arizona cruised past Utah 66-54 in McKale Center.

The Indiana transfer scored 11 of her season-high 14 points in the second quarter but headed to the locker room with 11 seconds left in the period after twisting her left ankle trying to fight through a screen.

Yeaney writhed in pain for a few minutes before trainers assisted her to the locker room. Not only did Yeaney turn out to be fine, she started the third quarter and immediately found Cate Reese in transition for a layup.

In addition to a season-high in scoring, Yeaney added five rebounds, two assists and two steals on 6-of-10 shooting, including a 3-pointer.

“She really got us going,” head coach Adia Barnes said. “She’s the difference maker for sure.”

The Wildcats were ice cold in the first quarter but outscored the Utes 20-9 in the second quarter to take a 30-20 lead at the half, thanks in big part to Yeaney’s scoring outburst.

Arizona led by double digits for the entire third quarter and most of the fourth quarter, so Yeaney rested for all but seven minutes of the second half.

“It’s always scary when you see one of your teammates go down,” Reese said. “You never know how severe it is, and especially because she was on fire, but we were just more worried if she was gonna be able to play and if she was going to be OK.“

Reese finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, pushing her past 1,000 career points, the 22nd player in Arizona history to reach that mark. Senior forward Sam Thomas reached that plateau earlier in the season and was honored before Friday’s game with a commemorative basketball.

Aari McDonald had 20 points on 19 shots, her 79th straight game scoring in double figures. That moved her ahead of Sabrina Ionescu for the second-most in the Pac-12 since 2000 and only four games shy of all-time leader Kelsey Plum, her former teammate at Washington.

McDonald also reached 2,000 career points by sinking some late free throws that iced the game.

“I think that’s huge for the program and those players,” Barnes said. “I’m really happy because those three are the foundation for what we do and they were kind of the first ones to come here and start to build something special.”

Neither McDonald nor Reese were in the mood to celebrate.

“It’s a blessing but we kinda played like crap,” McDonald said. “It feels like we lost, so I can’t even really be happy.”

The Wildcats led by 19 early in the fourth quarter but allowed the Utes to pull within nine when Brynna Maxwell drained a 3-pointer with 2:55 left. Arizona’s lead dwindled to six with 57 seconds before they capped the game with six unanswered points, four of them coming at the charity stripe.

The Wildcats struggled from the field (41%) and the 3-point line (2 for 11) and continue to scuffle from the free throw line (14 for 23).

“Utah did a really good job of forcing us into quick, tough shots,” Barnes said. “They did a really good job of making us pay every time we were out of position and went for a steal. They would hit a 3 or they had us in rotation because of soft on-ball defense.”

Arizona held Utah to 42% shooting and forced 29 turnovers, but allowed the Utes to outscore them 21-20 in the fourth. That, to Barnes, demonstrates a lack of focus.

“For us to be an elite team, we have to be able to sustain runs and we have to be able to put people away when we’re off,” she said.

With the win, Arizona improved to 11-2 overall and 9-2 in the Pac-12, tied for first-place in the loss column with Stanford and UCLA.

UA returns to action Sunday when they host Colorado at 1 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Network. The Wildcats beat the Buffaloes 62-59 in Boulder on Dec. 18, a game in which they had to overcome a 12-point third-quarter deficit to win.

“We just need to look forward to that and, like Aari said, we’re definitely not proud of how we played, especially the end of the game today,” Reese said. “So there’s stuff we need to work on tomorrow to get better.”

Postgame interviews

Adia Barnes post Utah

Hear what Adia Barnes had to say about Arizona's up-and-down win over Utah

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, January 22, 2021
Aari McDonald and Cate Reese post Utah

Aari McDonald and Cate Reese reached 2,000 and 1,000 career points in Arizona's 66-54 win over Utah, but they weren't happy how the team played

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, January 22, 2021