Colorado came into Arizona needing to put an end to a three-game losing streak. Arizona made them look like world-beaters in the first quarter before Shaina Pellington and Sam Thomas decided it wasn’t going to happen. The two seniors took over in the second period on the way to a 75-56 victory.
“I felt like when we came out, we were really flat,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “We weren’t contesting shots hard. That’s not how we play. We don’t play backed off like that. That’s not our style. So I thought we were passive. I thought that they beat us to a lot of 50-50 balls, and that’s not what we do. And I wasn’t happy with that overall until the second half.”
Like the rest of her team, Pellington didn’t have a great first quarter but scored 10 of her 12 first-half points in the second. She did it from all over, driving to the basket, hitting from outside, and going 3-4 from the free-throw line. She didn’t slow down in the second half, as she went off for a career-high 28 points to go with four rebounds, two assists, and three steals.
“I just felt confident,” Pellington said. “Once I started hitting shots, I was like ‘Okay, I feel really just composed right now.’ Especially at the free-throw line, I felt really just composed, relaxed, which is when I play my best.”
The senior guard only needed 13 shots to set her personal record. She went 10 for 13 from the floor including 2 for 2 from 3-point distance. Pellington also hit six of eight foul shots, a big achievement for a player who came in hitting just 53.5 percent of her free throws.
“She played an incredible game,” Barnes said. “I mean, 28 points, but let’s look at her stat line. To be 10 for 13 as a guard the handles the ball, going downhill against a good defensive team. And then I’m proud Shaina today made her free throws. So, six for eight from the free-throw line. That’s an area of emphasis.”
Thomas had a huge game against Utah on Friday night, but that was a team she had shot well against in the past. She picked up right where she left off against Colorado, going 3-4 from 3-point distance in the first half after a 6-9 night from outside against the Utes. Thomas ended the day with nine points, two rebounds, an assist, a block, and a steal.
Cate Reese tied the game at 29 with a shot at the end of the first half. She kept her foot down in the second half, scoring 19 of her 23 points in the final 20 minutes of the game. She added nine rebounds and a steal.
Reese was a huge reason the Wildcats were able to put space between themselves and the Buffaloes.
“We didn’t put our heads down,” Reese said. “And we just played Arizona defense like we should have from the beginning.”
Reese’s 23 and Pellington’s 28 marked the first time the Wildcats had two 20-plus point scorers since Aari McDonald and Sam Thomas combined for the feat against Washington on Feb. 4, 2021.
Reese and Pellington were also the only two Wildcats to go to the line. Colorado shot 24 free throws to just 11 for Arizona. The Buffaloes hit 17 of their foul shots.
After being down by as many as 12 in the second quarter, the Wildcats went up by as many as 23 in the fourth. The big lead allowed Barnes to play her entire bench.
Although it's likely that the game at California on Jan. 28 will be canceled due to COVID-19 protocols that forced the Bears to postpone today’s game against Stanford, at this point the Wildcats still have three games to play next week. The games at UCLA, California, and Stanford are part of a five-game stretch in 10 days created by the rescheduled game against the Bruins. The heavy schedule makes it even more important to save the wear and tear on Arizona’s primary rotation players, as well as finding minutes to reward players for their work in practice.
“It’s important because of the morale of the team, people staying motivated,” Barnes said. “It’s very hard as a player, you’re working your butt off every day, and then you never have an opportunity. But as a player, it’s hard to understand that it’s difficult finding minutes, and no team in America plays 15 people.”