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Arizona women’s basketball escapes Long Beach State’s upset bid

Esmery Martinez and Cate Reese both barely miss double-doubles

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Arizona’s Cate Reese (25) celebrates a three-pointer
Photo by Rebecca Sasnett / Arizona Athletics

The last time Arizona women’s basketball lost a game in the month of November was Nov. 21, 2017. The team that beat the Wildcats that day was Long Beach State. The No. 18 Wildcats team of November 2022 is much different than the 2017-18 team that ended the year 6-24, but despite the 86-64 Arizona victory, the result of the game was in doubt for most of the first three quarters.

“That was a tough one,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “I think the score is not an indication of how the game was. Long Beach State’s a really good team. I thought that they disrupted us. It wasn’t us, it was what they did to us, that made us make some adjustments and had us on our heels.”

The Wildcats were led by Esmery Martinez, who narrowly missed a double-double with 19 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals.

They also got double-figure scoring contributions from Shaina Pellington (15), Cate Reese (14), Jade Loville (18), and Lauren Fields (10). Reese also barely missed a double-double with nine rebounds, three assists, and one block to go with her points.

It was not a pretty game for the Wildcats. Long Beach State came into McKale Center having scored 54 points in its only game against a Division I opponent. The Beach had 39 by halftime against Arizona.

It started out as poorly as it possibly could for the Wildcats. They turned the ball over 10 times in the first quarter and only had 10 points on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, they allowed LBSU to shoot 58.3 percent from the floor.

“We just have to come out better prepared,” Fields said. “I don’t think we were expecting the zone, so we just have to take care of the ball from the start.”

It was a tale that would continue for the first three quarters. Arizona allowed backdoor cuts for easy layups, allowed wide-open three-pointers and generally looked like the lesser team on both ends of the floor for most of the first half.

“The first thing is we’re not guarding the ball,” Barnes said. “We know how to guard who we’re guarding. We have different assignments and we know how to play personnel. We’re very specific, very prepared scout-wise, and we are in the wrong position which leaves open threes. And we aren’t guarding the ball effectively. If we know a driver is going left-handed 99 percent of the time, you cannot continuously let them drive left-handed and get deep into the paint.”

The Wildcats finally got their feet under them with 4:34 to go in the opening half. With the Beach leading by nine points, Arizona went on a 17-7 run to take the one-point lead into the half.

After allowing the Beach to shoot 65.2 percent in the first half, including 72.7 percent in the second quarter, the Wildcats’ defense hit its stride in the third quarter. Arizona held LBSU to 29.4 shooting in the frame.

“We have to guard better,” Barnes said. “I think right now we don’t have one lockdown defender. We have different people at different times in the game, but we have to get better at being disciplined in what we do. Right now, we’re not disciplined and being consistent in what we do. So, I take full accountability on that. And you know, Coach Salvo [Coppa] and I work on the defense. I’ve given him the responsibility to be on us defensively. So I am going to put a lot more pressure and we are going to get better defensively.”

Arizona put its offensive foot down in the fourth quarter, eventually wearing down LBSU. Reese was a catalyst, scoring eight of her 14 points in the final quarter. Part of that was due to adjustments.

“We weren’t getting the ball inside,” Barnes said. “The ball was on the perimeter, jacking up shots, so we need to get the ball inside. We are better when we do that. And especially against the zone that’s extended, you have to touch the corners. You have to touch inside. So I think we just weren’t giving her a ball.”

Reese’s experience enabled her to still be engaged when her team finally got her the ball. It ended up being the difference in the fourth quarter.

“She stuck with it and that’s the maturity of a fifth-year,” Barnes said. “I thought Cate did a really good job of not getting down because she wasn’t getting touches. They’re gonna come. It’s always gonna come.”