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Busy 10 days for Arizona women’s basketball tips off against Utah

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 13 Women’s - Arizona at Oregon State Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s quite a schedule. In the next 10 days, Arizona women’s basketball will play five games. Three of those will be on the road, wrapping up with a meeting with Stanford at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 30. It all gets started Friday evening as the Wildcats host Utah.

“Games are a lot more fun than practices,” senior wing Sam Thomas said about the busy slate. “So we’re very happy about that. It probably will be a little tiring but they’re doing a good job of managing practices and what we’re doing before and after games—recovery, treatment, eating, sleeping, all that—so we’re just excited. We get to play some games, make up the games that we lost because of COVID. So we’re super excited.”

Arizona will be trying to get back on track after splitting last week on their Oregon road trip. To do so, they need to be ready for the 3-point shooting of the Utes. The visitors average 10.9 3-pointers made per game, which puts them at No. 23 in the country for made 3-point shots. They take 29.5 per game, which is good for a 37 percent 3-point field goal percentage.

“They always have shooters, one through probably 15,” Thomas said. “Their whole roster can shoot the ball from behind the arc, so just have to be worried about that. Be ready for shooters, run them off the line try and get them to do something different.”

The problem is that the Utes are also incredibly efficient inside the arc. Utah is hitting 55.2 percent of its 2-point attempts. Overall, the team is accurate on 46.7 percent of its shots from the floor. Send them to the line? They hit 74.7 percent of their free throws.

Free throws are something Arizona needs to fix going forward. While they didn’t get many attempts in Oregon, they missed half of the free throws they were awarded in the two-point overtime loss. As a team, the Wildcats are hitting just 67.4 percent of their foul shots. That’s in the 29th percentile of Division I women’s basketball according to Her Hoop Stats.

How do they fix it?

“I have no idea,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “I’m trying everything. Just what we do is put them in pressure situations, but it’s so different than a game.”

The problem of missing free throws is compounded by the fact that Arizona is consistently in the bottom half of Division I in free throws attempted. Even with dominant guards who drive to the hoop like Aari McDonald, Shaina Pellington, and Bendu Yeaney, that has not changed much over the past few years. The Wildcats have not been above the 50th percentile in free throws attempted since 2012-13 when they snuck up to the 53rd percentile.

Some make the argument that good teams get the benefit of the doubt from the officials. That has not proven to be true for Arizona. Despite being ranked for most of the past three years and playing for a national title, their free throw attempts have languished in the bottom half of DI women’s basketball where they have been for the past decade.

In the Pac-12, Arizona is seventh in free throws attempted this year with 215. Above them are Stanford (287), USC (261), Oregon (261), California (260), Colorado (260), and Utah (245). For a team that has both driving guards and a high-scoring frontcourt player like Cate Reese, the discrepancy with a 3-point shooting team like the Utes is especially interesting. Barnes may not be able to say anything more about the refs this season, but the officiating will continue to be a topic of conversation for many long-time fans of the Wildcats.

Utah Utes (9-4, 0-1) @ No. 10 Arizona (12-2, 2-2)

When and where: The game will tip off at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz. at 7 p.m. MST on Friday, Jan. 21.

TV: The game will air on Pac-12 Arizona.

Radio: The radio call by Brody Dryden will be on 1400 AM (KTUC). The broadcast can also be accessed online at The Varsity Network or on the station’s website.

Rankings and ratings: Arizona is ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 9 in the USA TODAY Sports/WBCA poll. The Wildcats are No. 11 in the NET and No. 12 in Her Hoop Stats’ rankings.

Utah is not ranked in either major poll. The Utes are No. 20 in the NET and No. 44 according to Her Hoop Stats.

Projections: Her Hoop Stats gives the Wildcats an 82.5 percent win probability at home and predicts 70.7 points for Arizona against 59.9 for Utah. Arizona would also have the advantage on a neutral court or in Utah according to the stats service.

How to follow: Follow us on Twitter @AZDesertSwarm or on our Facebook page for regular coverage during the week. For live tweets during games and other coverage, follow our deputy editor on Twitter @KimDoss71.