It was a big opportunity for the Arizona Wildcats. A win would have put them in the driver’s seat for a Pac-12 regular-season title. A loss and all would not be lost, but it would be one more time they had come up short against Stanford.
Another poor offensive night did them in. Stanford took the Pac-12 regular season with a 62-48 victory in Palo Alto. It was the Wildcats’ lowest scoring effort of the season.
“We don’t think we played our best game, but they make you make you do that,” head coach Adia Barnes said. “They make you play ugly and they make you play to your weaknesses. We were getting stops but then we couldn’t go score.”
Arizona was buoyed by the shooting of Sam Thomas and the rebounding of Trinity Baptiste in the early going while Aari McDonald struggled to make shots. Thomas hit three of four 3-pointers in the first half to help the Wildcats grab a 19-16 lead while McDonald went 2-11.
But you can’t keep McDonald down for long. It took a lot of work in the second half, but she finally started connecting, finishing with 20 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals for her 84th straight game in double figures.
Thomas and McDonald were the only two Wildcats to score in double figures, but two players just weren’t enough to overcome Stanford’s depth.
At times, open shooters passed up shots and Cate Reese could never get on track. Helena Pueyo went scoreless and only took three shots despite playing 30 minutes, overshadowing the fact she was Arizona’s second-leading rebounder (7) and assister (2).
“Helena should be confident. She’s one of our best three-point shooters,” Barnes said. “She’s shooting over 40 percent on threes, so she should be confident. I don’t know why there’s hesitation. I thought she was doing really well on the boards, got some tough boards. Sam and Helena have to be aggressive for us to win games. They spread the floor. They’re great shooters. Helena’s more than a shooter. She attacks the basket, finds people. We need her to be aggressive. I thought that she was able to do other things... but in a game like this where they congest the paint, we have to have her hit shots to just loosen them up.”
Otherwise it makes life difficult for McDonald, who had a tough time with Stanford’s length and athleticism.
“Aari McDonald is a tremendous talent,” Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “She is super athletic, so you’re not gonna stop her, but she went 8-for-24, 0-for-6 from three. I thought Anna (Wilson) did a fabulous job on her. She did hit her little pull-up but we were willing to live with that. Just the defensive efforts by both Anna and Lexie (Hull) were awesome.”
As a team, the Wildcats shot just 30.9 percent from the floor, 23.8 percent from beyond the arc and 9 for 14 from the free throw line. That plus Stanford’s 39-32 rebounding advantage were Barnes’ greatest concerns.
“We definitely are better from the last time we played Stanford, but we’re not where we need to be,” she said. “So we know we’re capable of playing better. We know we’re capable of doing more and our expectation the standards are high, but I look at the stat sheet I’m not happy with that. ... You can’t beat good teams like that.”