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Arizona women’s basketball finds answers, defeats New Mexico

Courtesy of Arizona Athletics

A quick New Mexico Lobos team and a 2-3 zone gave Arizona women’s basketball headaches on Sunday. With the absence of starting post Lauren Ware, head coach Adia Barnes had to go back to the drawing board with her rotations. It took a half of basketball, but the Wildcats eventually found the formula that worked on the way to a 77-60 victory.

Barnes began the game with a lineup of Sam Thomas, Cate Reese, Shaina Pellington, Bendu Yeaney, and Ariyah Copeland. Despite not starting leading scorer Shaiquel McGruder, the Lobos used their speed and 3-point shooting to stay with the Wildcats, forcing the Arizona coach to consider her options.

“We couldn’t really guard them in some situations,” Barnes said. “They were really consciously driving it downhill and (we) had a tough time matching up.”

With the speed causing problems on the defensive end, the zone employed by New Mexico had its effect on the offensive end of the court. Barnes continued to search for something that worked and found it in three of her reserve guards.

Taylor Chavez came in halfway through the first quarter and hit two quick 3-pointers. She ended the day with six points and three assists in 15 minutes on the court.

Madi Conner entered to start the second quarter and didn’t leave the court for the rest of the half. In 10 minutes of play, she went 3 for 5 from distance to score 9 points in the opening half. She ended the game with career highs in points (15) and minutes (20). Her 15 points on 5-for-10 shooting led the Wildcats and tied for the game high. All of her points came from beyond the arc.

“I’m here to do whatever the team needs,” Conner said. “If the team doesn’t need a shooter at the time, they just need someone to go in there and have some intensity, play some defense and get in the right spots, that’s what I’m doing. So, that’s my role. And shoot the ball.”

In the opening 20 minutes, Copeland and Pellington played just nine and five minutes, respectively. They both ended the day with nine minutes on the court.

Barnes put six-foot junior Helena Pueyo in for both Pellington and Copeland in the first half. Pueyo started the second half in place of Copeland to help the team on defense. Just minutes into the third quarter, Chavez entered again for Pellington who had difficulty with New Mexico’s zone.

“Playing small was just the way we could guard them because we were having some tough time guarding some of their actions,” Barnes said. “I mean, a lot of times their five’s out, and our fives don’t usually guard guard-like players. That’s why playing these types of teams is difficult for us.”

With the lineup figured out, Arizona outscored New Mexico 22-13 in the third to take a 57-45 lead. The Wildcats maintained the double-digit advantage through the end.

Conner joined Reese, Pueyo, Yeaney, and Thomas in double digits.

Reese had a double-double with 14 points and a season-high 12 rebounds. She also contributed three assists and a steal but also had two turnovers.

Pueyo ended the game with a season-high 11 points to go along with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 3 steals. She took care of the ball and made smart decisions, ending with a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Thomas tied Pueyo with a team-high four assists, but she had three turnovers to offset that. She added 13 points, a rebound, two blocks, and two steals.

Yeaney rounded out the group with 10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, a block, and 3 steals.

The Wildcats next take the court in Flagstaff against NAU on Dec. 17. Two days later, they will face No. 11 Texas in Las Vegas. Barnes said that Ware would probably be available for the Texas game, but the sophomore might not see the court until after the holiday break.

“If I think she’s not 100 percent, I’m not going to play her,” Barnes said.