Lack of teamwork at ASU led to a bad loss on Friday. Arizona women’s basketball needed to play together against a team that makes things ugly. And, boy, was the rematch ugly. Both teams shot well from the floor, but a choppy game marred by whistles killed the flow. It didn’t kill the Wildcats, though, as they got their revenge with a 62-58 victory.
“So proud of the way that we responded and just found the way to win,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “It wasn’t the prettiest game. I thought we still made a lot of mistakes, but we still found a way and different people stepped up to get this one.”
The key glory goes to freshman Madi Conner and junior Koi Love. When Arizona got behind, it was Conner or Love who hit the big bucket. When Arizona needed a rebound, it was Love battling bigger players for the board. But it was their teammates who got them the ball, who helped with boxouts.
Sharing the ball was a key focus going in.
“Oh, we were going to do that,” Barnes said. “We normally yesterday would have had a walkthrough. We practiced. And we practice that and they could not shoot until under a certain amount, so it was intentional. And there were conversations about it. We weren’t gonna play another way. Multiple possessions, everybody on the floor touches the ball, and that’s how we were going to play. A little bit of the first half we didn’t do that. So at halftime, we talked about it, and second half we did that better. So we’re not going to play another way. I’m not gonna allow us to play one pass and a shot. That’s not the kind of basketball I’m gonna coach.”
It’s not the kind of basketball the players want to play, either.
“I think stressing playing together on defense and on offense was something that we stressed heavily yesterday and we want to do continuing forward,” Love said. “It’s almost March. It’s almost tournament time. So it’s the time for us to tighten up and be as good as we say we are.”
Conner finished with a career-high 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting. She also had two rebounds, three assists, and a steal in 24 minutes.
“I definitely don’t think anybody thinks you have to carry a scoring load,” Conner said. “It is just we have to do whatever the team needs to win. And if that’s the case, if you’re open, take your shot. I mean, everybody’s confident. Whoever’s getting hot that night, we’re gonna find them. So I mean, I definitely don’t think me or anybody else thinks that they have to take on that load.”
Love had 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting to go along with a team-high 6 rebounds. She also had three assists and three steals in 28 minutes. The rebounds were hard-fought, often over bigger players.
“Playing the four, that’s my job,” Love said. “Number 12, she’s an amazing, incredible athlete and I knew that one of my responsibilities was making sure to keep her off the boards. They outrebounded us in the first game by an outrageous number. So we also knew that was a part of winning this game tonight. So I took that personally.”
Defense was also key. Arizona gave up 81 points to ASU on Feb. 11. The Sun Devils scored more against Harvard and Marist, but Arizona is the No. 6 team in the country.
Jade Loville was a big reason for that offensive explosion with 27 points on Friday. On Sunday, she scored just eight points.
“Sam (Thomas) is a great defensive player,” Conner said. “Last game, (Loville) got hot. I mean, they’re at home. She was in rhythm. So we just had to stop her rhythm, not let her get hot. She’s a great player. So she’s gonna get her points somewhere or another, but just to really focus on her and shut her down which Sam did a great job tonight and anybody else that went out there.”
Senior Cate Reese led the Wildcats with 17 points and added 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal.
Bendu Yeaney contributed 9 points, 5 rebounds, an assist, and three steals. In the early going, she carried the scoring load for Arizona by getting to the basket before giving way to Conner and Love.
Arizona was whistled for 23 fouls. ASU had 19 and lost Taya Hanson to disqualification. Neither team shot well from the free-throw line with the Wildcats hitting 9 of 17 and the Sun Devils connecting on 11 of 18.
Turnovers were also an issue for both teams. The Wildcats turned the ball over 21 times while forcing 20 from their rivals.
ASU battled throughout, taking a six-point lead halfway through the third quarter.
“What I love is that people have to come to Arizona and prepare for the state of Arizona, prepare for both of us,” Barnes said. “And I think that’s what (Charli Turner Thorne and I) had talked about when I first got the job. She wanted us to be good. I want them to be good because they want us to be hard when people come here just like how we feel when we go to Oregon. So I just have a lot of respect for her. I think it’s no longer lopsided. We’re a good team here. And, right now we’re even overall a little bit better team, but we’re definitely beatable and they can beat us and I think ASU is a lot better than their record. I think that they’re a tournament team. I think they’re gonna surprise a lot of people...because they’re very difficult to play against, especially when they’re hot.”
Despite it being Super Bowl Sunday, Arizona drew 8,480 fans, including a good number of students in the Zona Zoo. It was the third time this season the Wildcats have drawn over 8,000. Many stayed after the game as Thomas led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to junior Helena Pueyo, who got the win on her 21st birthday.