The Arizona Wildcats are the better team. The No. 9 ranking and the 13-3 conference ranking said that. So did Arizona State’s loss to previously-winless California last week.
The Sun Devils just did not quite agree with those facts, as they defeated Arizona 66-64 in overtime on Sunday afternoon in Tempe.
“They wanted it more,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “They took it from us. They played harder. They just totally outplayed us and deserved to win the game.”
ASU (11-9, 6-9 Pac-12) came out confident against their rivals behind the 3-point shooting of Taya Hanson and the versatility of Katelyn Levings. The junior and the freshman each scored six points in the opening quarter to give ASU a slim 12-11 lead.
Hanson led the Sun Devils with 19 points, but she got help from a more balanced offense. ASU had eight players who got into the scoring column. Arizona (15-4, 13-4) had just five.
“They came into the game under 30 percent on three and they shot 56 percent,” Barnes said. “We could not stop their stagger action, which I don’t know why because we guard that a lot. Had a tough time stopping it. We let them shoot 46 percent from the two. We won’t win games like that.”
On the offensive end for Arizona, it was the Aari McDonald show. McDonald did what she does and she did it from the opening tip. She had seven of the team’s 11 points in the opening quarter.
In the second quarter, it looked like she was finally going to get some help. Bendu Yeaney hit two 3-pointers and Trinity Baptiste got on the board, but it just was not consistent enough. McDonald went on to score 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting. She added four rebounds, an assist, a block and six steals.
Yeaney was the only other player to score in double figures. She had 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting. She also had four rebounds, an assist, a block and two steals.
There wasn’t a single place to point at as the problem. Everything was a problem.
The single assist from McDonald tells part of the story. The Wildcats got just seven assists on 23 made baskets. Part of that could be blamed on passing up shots. Part of it could be blamed on not making shots that were taken.
The number of players who got into the scoring column tells another part of the story.
The supporting cast wasn’t reliable. With sophomore guard Helena Pueyo out with injury, the Wildcats got no production from the bench.
Of the three reserves that saw time, only Shaina Pellington even took a shot. She was 0-for-1.
That is not to blame the lack of bench production entirely on the loss of Pueyo. The last time the reserve guard made an offensive impact was against Oregon State on Jan. 17. She went 4-for-6 that night, but has gone 2-for-13 in the six games since then.
“Other people have to step up and do their jobs,” Barnes said. “And I thought that we forced a lot down the stretch. We took bad shots.”
Pueyo might have made the defense at least give her some thought. It certainly was not pretty without her.
With McDonald’s scoring removed from the equation, Arizona connected on a mere 13 buckets. While McDonald was shooting over 50 percent, the rest of her team was successful just 33.3 percent of the time. ASU did not need to pay attention to most of them.
The next chapter was about missing easy shots. As a team, Arizona took 58 shots. Twenty-nine of those were layups. They missed 15 of those layups.
“We can’t only rely on Aari,” Barnes said. “I can’t run every offense for Aari, but I think down the stretch we can’t then force shots because we haven’t touched the ball. Our posts combined—our two starting posts, Cate and Trinity—combined for 6-for-21. We need Cate to be a scorer. We need Trinity to finish around the basket.”
For those posts to be successful, someone has to get them the ball.
“Our post players didn’t get that many touches this game, and we need our post players to score,” Yeaney said. “I think Trinity only got eight shots. We got to get her more. Lauren didn’t get any shots this game, and we got to get her more. Everybody, especially when we have a player out, everybody needs to step up. Today, only a couple players stepped up when we needed the whole team.”
The story was just the latest in a series of poor outings. The first release was at California, where the Wildcats were lucky that they weren’t the team to give the Golden Bears their first win.
The next tale appeared in Palo Alto where Arizona fought hard, but just couldn’t do enough offensively to take the regular-season championship from Stanford.
But this one might be the most unsatisfying part of the trilogy. It was a rivalry game. Arizona could have swept Arizona State for the second straight year after more than a decade of futility.
It was McDonald’s final regular-season game.
It would have an impact on where the Wildcats end up seeded in the NCAA Tournament.
If that was not enough motivation, it is difficult to know what might be. McDonald tried to lead the way. Her team was not able follow her.
“We need some other people step up,” Barnes said. “We’re not going to win games with just two people scoring.”