LAS VEGAS — Arizona head coach Adia Barnes called the postseason a new season. She also had a new star. In her first Pac-12 Tournament game, Trinity Baptiste set the tone from the opening tip, leading the Wildcats to a 60-44 victory over Washington State to advance to the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.
The Wildcats needed someone other than Aari McDonald to carry the offensive load. Barnes had repeatedly called for the rest of the team to step up. Baptiste took it to heart.
“We know that we haven’t been playing well the last couple of games. I want to start off with that,” Baptiste said. “And our leaders stepped up this week in practice. Coach was on us harder. We just wanted to come out and win. We don’t want to go home. Simple as that.”
The grad transfer had 13 points in the first half. She ended the night with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting. She grabbed six rebounds and six steals. The steals matched a season-high mark set by McDonald and Sam Thomas several times this year.
McDonald pushed her streak of games in double digits to 86 by scoring 13 points. Instead of scoring big, she showed her prowess at distributing, setting a new season-high with nine assists. She added five rebounds and three steals.
“I’m proud of her, a plus-six assist-to-turnover ratio and three steals and five rebounds,” Barnes said. “I think that’s a great stat line. She played a really good game. You don’t have to score 20 to impact the game and make a difference and help us win and she did that tonight.”
Cate Reese also scored in double figures with 10 points, while Thomas added seven. Even players who were not scoring were contributing.
“The other thing I want to point out, Helena Pueyo wasn’t shooting the ball today,” Barnes said. “It was not her night to shoot, but six rebounds, five steals and one turnover, one block. That’s a phenomenal stat line. That is a plus-23 efficiency and that’s the way to help your team without scoring. All those little things matter.”
Arizona’s suffocating defense held WSU to 26 percent shooting and forced 26 turnovers, but they did fall into some old habits, going through dry spells on the offensive end. It was not optimal when facing a WSU team that erased a 16-point deficit to beat Arizona less than two months ago.
The Wildcats entered the fourth quarter up by 16 once again. This time, there would be no comeback.
“We wanted to get back to what we were doing so well a couple of weeks ago,” Barnes said. “Defensive intensity and just coming out with that fire. And I think we really did that. Weren’t able to convert at all times, but definitely I think really, really good job trapping their ball handlers, forcing them to be uncomfortable. And they had a really tough time getting into their sets.”
The Wildcats began the game on an 11-0 run and held the Cougars to five points in the first quarter. Still, they only led by eight at the half after Krystal Leger-Walker hit a circus 3 at the buzzer.
That only seemed to stoke Arizona’s fire as they came out and locked the Cougars down in the third. Once again, the Wildcats held Washington State to just five points in a quarter. This time, they did not fall into their own offensive doldrums.
The Wildcats had their highest-scoring quarter of the night with 18 points in the fourth to punch their ticket to the semifinals. They will third-seeded UCLA on Friday at 9 p.m. MST for a chance to advance to the championship game.
“We wanted to come out with that sense of urgency, that dog mentality, and I think we did that,” Barnes said. “It wasn’t a perfect game for us, but I thought defensively we were pretty solid. We made mistakes like we’re going to, but we had passion plays, we had hustle, we fought. I’m just proud of how we responded after the game because we could have just said, ‘okay, we’re not playing well.’ But I thought they responded well and different people stepped up. I’m proud of our performance and proud that we’re not going home.”
Adia Barnes and Trinity Baptiste post Washington State win
Hear what Adia Barnes and Trinity Baptiste said after Arizona's 60-44 win over Washington State to open the Pac-12 TournamentPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Thursday, March 4, 2021