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Arizona women’s basketball turns it up in second half to defeat Texas Southern

Arizona v New Mexico Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

It was a slow start for Arizona. For the first half, the much larger Wildcats were able to score in the paint, but they had a difficult time stopping the smaller Texas Southern Tigers. UA was finally able to wear down the opponent in the second half on the way to an 89-55 victory.

Arizona was led by forwards Cate Reese and Esmery Martinez, both of whom had double-doubles. Reese ended with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Martinez had 16 points and 12 rebounds to go with two assists, two blocks, and four steals.

It was the first time two Arizona players had a double-double in the same game since Reese and Aari McDonald did it against Prairie View A&M on Nov. 20, 2019. Reese had 20 points and 10 rebounds in that game. McDonald almost had a triple-double with 15 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds.

The Wildcats got double-digit points from Jade Loville (10) and Maya Nnaji (11), as well. Shaina Pellington came close with nine points, two rebounds, and two steals off the bench.

Head coach Adia Barnes likes the cohesiveness between Reese and Martinez. Getting the ball to the pair of starters and freshman reserve Nnaji has been a focus.

“We were stressing it all week, but we were also stressing them posting hard,” Barnes said. “So I thought they did a good job, whether it was a zone or man, of using a screen and posting up and demanding the ball in the post. And our guards did a really good job of being intentional.”

Passing the ball into the post isn’t the only focus, though. Barnes was also pleased that the posts didn’t force things once they got the ball.

“They were hitting cutters,” she said. “They were passing it back out, not forcing it.”

On the defensive end, the three posts had nine of the Wildcats’ 19 steals. Nnaji contributed three off the bench to go with the four from Martinez and two from Reese.

The defense had its challenges in the game, though. Arizona had difficulty pulling away from TSU early on.

In the first quarter, the Lady Tigers shot 46.7 percent from the field and 40 percent from three. That jumped to 53.8 percent from the floor and 60 percent from three in the second quarter.

With 5:31 to go in the half, it was a four-point game at 34-30. Arizona outscored TSU by seven from there to go into the locker room up by 11. However, they had allowed the Lady Tigers, who came in averaging 54 PPG, to score 40 over the first 20 minutes.

The first half was full of problems the Wildcats have faced in previous games. The Lady Tigers were able to get by Arizona defenders on the drive, and they were able to hit from distance when they didn’t.

“I think we’ve been emphasizing defense since our first game, and I think it just hasn’t clicked yet,” Reese said. “And I feel like it’s finally kind of starting to click, especially in the third quarter, but I mean, [Barnes] just told us we have to be in rotation. We can’t let someone dribble one time and penetrate. So I think that was a big thing for us, which is guarding our man and staying on them and having good reads and switching with the guards, and I think we did that in the third quarter. And I think we need to continue that, especially for our big game on Sunday.”

Arizona clamped down at the beginning of the second half. In the opening seconds of the third quarter, Reese was involved in traps that led to two steals—one by her and one by Helena Pueyo. It put the Wildcats on the path toward a dominant win.

“I think it’s super important,” Reese said. “I mean, that’s Arizona defense. We’ve always been, great at trapping and so I think being able to get that stop kind of set the tone, set the pace for the rest of the game.”

In this game, getting more aggressive helped the Wildcats hold the Lady Tigers to 12.5 percent shooting in the third quarter and 18.8 percent in the fourth. After giving up 17 points in the first quarter and 23 in the second, Arizona allowed just six and nine points in the final two quarters.

The Wildcats’ next stop is in Dallas to face Baylor on Dec. 18 in the Pac-12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge. For the second time in a week, former West Virginia Moutaineer Martinez will play a Big 12 team she’s faced many times in her career.

Arizona had problems with the post play of Kansas last weekend. Martinez thinks they need to watch for that when they face Big 12 teams.

Most of all, though, the Wildcats need to be focused on defense from the opening tip.

“That needs to start in the first half, that needs to start in the first quarter, and start the first possession,” Reese said.