Adia Barnes was afraid that her Arizona Wildcats could get caught in a trap game at California. The Golden Bears almost made it a reality. It didn’t take a lot of creativity, either.
“They were scoring on the same play for almost 40 minutes,” Arizona guard Aari McDonald said.
Arizona was able to save its regular season Pac-12 title hopes by salvaging a 59-50 victory that was closer than the final score.
On a day when the Wildcats struggled to score and struggled to defend without putting the Bears on the line, McDonald willed them to victory with 28 points on 11-for-23 shooting. She added four rebounds, two assists and three steals to that stat line.
The only other Arizona player in double figures was fellow senior Trinity Baptiste, who scored 11 points to go along with six rebounds and a steal.
“I’m very disappointed,” Barnes said. “It’s our worst game of the season.”
The Bears were led by freshman guard Dalayah Daniels, who had a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow freshman Ugonne “Michelle” Onyiah also put together a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“Every single thing we went over, they did exactly,” Barnes said. “And I wouldn’t have changed that either, because they were killing us in it. (We) did not have answer for the post. Let them out muscle us. Daniels had a phenomenal game today, credit to her. She had 24 and 10, and her average is 11.”
As a team, the Wildcats were once again cold from the floor. They shot 36.8 percent from the field and just 20 percent from the 3-point line.
Cal didn’t shoot any better. The Bears hit 36 percent of their shots from the field and 8.3 percent from distance. They were kept in the game by Arizona’s struggles on both offense and defense. Their rebounding didn’t hurt, either.
Cal went to the line 20 times in the game and was able to get both Cate Reese and Sam Thomas in foul trouble. In a scenario that has become too common this season, Reese picked up two early fouls and was never able to get into the offensive groove when she re-entered the game.
“Cal did a really good job,” McDonald said. “They were attacking us. They made a conscious effort to attack the basket a lot today and they kept causing rotations in the first half. I mean, we just got to get better at adjusting.”
Until they started fouling Arizona in the last minutes of the game, they had only sent the Wildcats to the line 12 times. The problem for the Bears is that they struggled from the free throw line as well as the floor, hitting just 13 of those foul shots.
The Bears outrebounded Arizona 40-26, and doubled up the Wildcats on the offensive boards 14-7. Barnes was especially frustrated by the 28-9 rebounding margin by Cal’s post players compared to Arizona’s posts.
The one part of the defense that didn’t fail Arizona was the ability to create turnovers. Twenty-nine percent of Cal’s possessions ended in a turnover. That equated to 18 turnovers for the Bears which turned into 21 points for the Wildcats, saving them on an early afternoon in Berkeley.
“I think we’re on a seven game winning streak. I’m not satisfied, though,” Barnes said. “It’s not about winning to me. If we want to do something special, it’s about the way we play and the way we perform. I think the disappointing thing about today is it’s not about the X’s and O’s, because we had a game plan. We didn’t execute the game plan, which is uncharacteristic for us. They usually do a really good job of doing what we set out to do. But the things that concern me are the 50-50 balls, the passion plays, the getting out-hustled for rebounds, the boxing out. It does not take athleticism to box out. It does not take a tremendous amount of skill. It takes effort, focus and a mentality. And we didn’t have that mentality. We were very soft.”