It had been 12 long days since Arizona women’s basketball had stepped on the court against an opponent. The sixth-ranked Wildcats were looking forward to one of only two home games left on the schedule before Pac-12 play. They didn’t expect it all to go sideways just 26 seconds into the game, but a career-high 16 points from Shaina Pellington helped them salvage a 59-47 victory over North Dakota State despite an early injury to starting post Lauren Ware.
The scare came right out of the gate. Senior guard Bendu Yeaney drove to the basket on Arizona’s first possession. Ware went up for the rebound and came down wrong.
The Wildcats’ starting post remained flat on the court, lying on her side. She didn’t cry or scream, but she obviously was in pain and she wasn’t getting up. Her head coach and the trainer came to her side. They talked to her, then helped her to the bench before she continued on to the locker room with a teammate and the medical staff.
If there was any reassurance in the fact that she couldn’t put weight on her knee it was that it was her right knee that was causing her problems. Prior to her senior year in high school, Ware tore her left ACL. It caused her to miss her senior year of volleyball and basketball, the two sports she planned to play at Arizona.
She never played volleyball for the Wildcats, but Ware was starting for a Top 10 basketball team as a sophomore. The future is bright, but it got cloudier for a little while.
The unconfirmed report in the arena was a dislocated kneecap. After the game, Arizona head coach Adia Barnes verified that it was a dislocation that “shifted right back,” but said that an MRI would still be done after the swelling goes down. Ware is expected back within two weeks.
For reasons far beyond basketball, it was a relief to the team that the injury was not as severe as first thought.
“She’s just a great kid, I just love her,” Barnes said. “I’m just so happy it’s nothing bad. I was like, ‘Oh, a week or two? That’s fine!’”
Pellington’s 16 points not only set her career high, it also led the game. She added 3 assists, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals. Cate Reese was close behind with 13 points, 6 rebounds, and a block. Ariyah Copeland stepped in for Ware and was the third Wildcat in double digits with 13 points, 3 rebounds, a block, and a steal.
“In those situations, you got to be ready when your number’s called because that could be anyone,” Copeland said.
The team seemed a bit unfocused after Ware left the floor. The Wildcats would build a lead, then the Bison would get back into it. Arizona shot just 30.6 percent from the floor in the first half and went an abysmal 2-11 from 3-point range. Most of the damage was done in the opening period when they were hit only two of their nine 3-point shots.
“I think that’s a product of very good friend and starter going down in the first 30 seconds,” Barnes said. “Some of the girls had tears in their eyes. So I think that was one of the reasons why we had a slow start, to be honest.”
Arizona started to settle down in the second quarter. They shot two 3-pointers in the quarter. When they missed, they didn’t just continue to launch them. Instead, Pellington started to attack the basket. She went 2 for 3 from the floor. A couple of free throws gave her 6 points in the period.
Reese took control in the third, scoring nine points while Pellington continued her offensive ways with five points of her own. Except for a bucket from Koi Love, the inside-outside tandem was the entirety of Arizona’s scoring in the third.
“I thought we made as a staff some good adjustments for the zone because what we were doing in the first half was not working,” Barnes said.
NDSU would not go away and Arizona couldn’t put them away. Barnes was not able to go deep into her bench with the score so tight. The Bison, who came into the game 3-4 against a fairly light schedule, closed the lead to five against the primary rotation in the fourth quarter.
It never felt that Arizona was in real danger of losing, though. The team kept its cool even as their opponent kept coming at them.
“We just tried to keep our composure as best as we could,” Pellington. “Especially in situations like that—they’re a strong team, they’re very fundamentally strong, they hit shots—the worst thing you can do in situations like that is freak out. We just went back to what we know how to do, pound the ball inside, hit shots when we can.”
With the score at 47-42 and 6:33 to go, the Wildcats used their defense to get some offense. Pellington had two steals that turned into layups and Copeland scored four points over two minutes and 25 seconds to push the lead back to 10.
That was the end of the threat. Now, the Wildcats must hope Ware heals quickly. They have two more games, then they are due to face an even bigger threat when they take on No. 11 Texas on Dec. 19 in Las Vegas.