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Arizona women’s basketball tries to maintain Pac-12 standing against Washington State

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 18 Women’s - Arizona at Washington Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Arizona had a rough game against Washington. The Wildcats scored just 16 points in the first half then let a 15-point lead dwindle to four in the final quarter. Heading into a game against a much better team, the team needs to put it together or it could easily find itself being bumped out of third place in the Pac-12 and perhaps off the two-seed line for the NCAA Tournament.

If Washington State can win out, the Cougars will take over third place from Arizona even if the Wildcats go 2-1. Dropping to fourth means facing Stanford in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. It’s a position best avoided.

“I think the difference between good and great is who you’re playing shouldn’t dictate how you play,” head coach Adia Barnes said after the Washington win. “And I think that’s what we’re learning. We’re learning that everybody’s gonna give us their best shot. We have a target on our back. So we have to learn how Arizona brings their best game every night, regardless of who we’re playing. Because it’s not about other people. It’s about us.”

Barnes is trying to draw on experience from last season.

“I was talking to one of the players earlier, and she reminded me this time last year, we kind of hit a wall,” Barnes said. “This is that time of the season where the season is really long. You know, you’re kind of at the end, but you’re not at the end.”

The problem for the Wildcats is that what lifted the offense last season after the late-season lull was Aari McDonald. She’s not on this team anymore. Someone or multiple players have to step up because a game like they played against Washington could well mean early-tournament exits both in the conference and NCAA tournaments.

That doesn’t mean the problems can’t be fixed. Some of Arizona’s issues against Washington came down to simply not converting on layups. That hasn’t been a problem for Shaina Pellington against most conference opponents. She has only shot below 40 percent in four of the 11 Pac-12 games and she hit 37.5 percent in one of those.

Over the course of the season, Pellington has hit 47.1 percent of her shots. That places her 13th in the Pac-12, behind mostly post players. The only guard who hits a better percentage is Kennady McQueen of Utah.

In conference games, Pellington is hitting 49.1 percent of her shots, making her the top guard in the league for field goal percentage and eighth among all players.

It has, however, been a problem for Lauren Ware who went 2 for 11 from the floor against Washington, including some missed layups. She took a lot more shots than average in that game, and she struggled to hit them. She is exactly the inverse of Pellington, hitting over 40 percent of her shots just four times in 11 conference games.

Ware is hitting just 33.9 percent of her shots over those 11 games. For a post, that’s a concern. Part of it is taking 13 shots from beyond the arc during league play and only hitting two of them.

But the problem is not confined to league play. Ware’s 42.3 percent shooting percentage this season does not qualify for inclusion in Pac-12 stats because she has not hit at least three field goals per game. Even if she qualified, that percentage would be outside the top 20 behind even a few guards. More concerning for the tournament is the drop in field goal percentage against league opponents.

Arizona needs Ware as the games pick up in intensity and importance. In conference play, she, Bendu Yeaney (39 percent), and Madi Conner (38.5 percent) are the only three regular rotation players hitting less than 40 percent of their shots, but Ware’s 33.9 is far below the other two. It is also more concerning from a post player than the two guards.

Ware will be important against Washington State which features a defensively talented post in Bella Murekatete. The Cougars’ center is fourth in the league with 1.8 blocks per game while also accounting for 1.5 steals. Her field goal percentage of 43.5 percent in conference play also makes her a top 15 player in that statistic.

Ware does not need to put up a large number of points. Arizona does, however, need her to hit more of those that she takes. It could be the difference against the Cougars.

No. 8 Arizona (19-4, 9-4 Pac-12) @ Washington State (17-8, 9-5 Pac-12)

When and where: The game tips off at 1 p.m. MST on Sunday, Feb. 20 at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, Wash.

TV: The game will air on Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Washington.

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.

Stats: In-game stats will be available at Arizona Live Stats.

Rankings and ratings: Arizona is ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 7 in the USA TODAY Sports/WBCA poll. The Wildcats are No. 11 in the NET and No. 14 in Her Hoop Stats’ rankings.

WSU is not ranked in either major poll. The Cougars are No. 65 in the NET and No. 83 in the HHS ranking.

Home and away: The Wildcats are 4-4 on the road. The Cougars are 10-2 at home.

Standings: Arizona is in third in the Pac-12 with a 9-4 record. WSU is in fourth at 9-5.

Projections: Her Hoop Stats gives the Wildcats a 78.5 percent win probability in Beasley Coliseum. The model predicts 61.8 points for Arizona and 53.7 points for Washington State. Arizona won the first game between the two teams by the score of 60-52 in McKale earlier this season.

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.