If there was one team that was going to have no sympathy for the injury woes of Arizona women’s basketball, it was most likely to be UCLA. The Bruins have spent much of the season missing various players, even forfeiting a game against Oregon due to injuries. Seeing the Wildcats without leading scorer Cate Reese was a big opportunity for a team desperately trying to get a spot in the postseason. The Bruins took full advantage in a 64-46 victory at McKale Center.
Arizona did not play well as a team. The Wildcats dribbled the ball without purpose. They made puzzling passes. They were forced to take several questionable shots late in the shot clock. And they didn’t rebound the ball.
“We got to know the plays,” senior guard Bendu Yeaney said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. We got one more game left and half our team doesn’t know the plays. So it’s kind of tough to run offense when you don’t know the plays.”
That raises an important question. How is it that so much of the team doesn’t know the plays in late February?
“Exactly,” said Arizona head coach Adia Barnes before turning her attention to other issues. “Not knowing the play, I don’t think that was the problem. Sometimes people messed up plays, but then there should be so much communication on the court, that you help each other get to the right spots, because everybody can make mistakes at times. But I think that the true reason why we lost the game was rebounding. I think if you take care of rebounds, even if we don’t allow them 64 points, we may not score 46. There were many games last year we scored 50 points. We averaged like 55 but we don’t let our opponents do that. So then you got to play defense. So I don’t think it was up to not running the plays offensively. I think it was our toughness. I think it was our will to win. It was our toughness inside and not boxing out. You can’t win games not boxing out. You can’t give a team 16 offensive rebounds and they get 20 second-chance points.”
UCLA outrebounded Arizona 48-26 overall on the way to those 20 second-chance points. The Wildcats shot just 28.1 percent, including 25 percent from 3-point distance. It was a recipe for a blowout and the first home loss of the season.
How much of the rebounding issues were related to the absence of Reese?
“I think it was zero to do with not having Cate because Cate doesn’t really box out a lot either,” Barnes said with a bit of a laugh. “She’s aggressive getting the boards, but Ariyah (Copeland) came in at six. So if Cate’s average is seven, Ariyah had six, so that wasn’t the case. It was our guards not being able to box out and it was our post players not being able to box out. And as a coach, it shouldn’t take me to take...next woman down.”
The biggest bright spot was the return of Copeland who hadn’t played since Feb. 4. She scored six points and grabbed six rebounds in 20 minutes of play. She didn’t play for long stretches, though. Barnes said that she could tell that Copeland was getting tired after a few minutes.
Shaina Pellington led the Wildcats with 14 points. She also had three rebounds, one assist, and three steals.
Yeaney was the only other Arizona player to score in double figures. She scored 10 points but was only 2 for 8 from the field. Most of her points came from the free-throw line.
That frustrated Barnes, who still sees a lack of aggressiveness on the offensive end in some of her players. The most troubling part of that is that it’s the upperclassmen like Sam Thomas and Helena Pueyo that Barnes needs more from.
“We need Helena to be more aggressive,” Barnes said. “We can’t have Helena only taking one shot. We need her to be more of a scorer and she’s capable of doing that, so we need her to have the confidence to do it. Madi (Conner) hit some hard shots. Wasn’t her night. She missed a lot of shots, but at least she’s coming off with the intention of scoring and trying. And I thought that wasn’t her best game, but she still gave us something off the bench.”
Fellow freshmen Gisela Sanchez and Aaronette Vonleh also tried to give Arizona something off the bench. Sanchez had three points and two rebounds in nine minutes.
Vonleh was the only player on the team with a positive plus/minus. She scored two points, grabbed two offensive rebounds, and got a steal in four minutes. Her biggest struggle was at the free-throw line. She went two for six from the line, but she was at least getting into position to be fouled.
“I thought she did good,” Barnes said. “I thought she was physical inside when (IImar’I) Thomas was trying to post her up. I thought she did a really good job. She missed then got her own offensive rebound, which we didn’t have a whole lot of. I thought she was good. And she hasn’t played in a while. That’s a tough situation to just come in and do it I think.”
Arizona must hope to put things together before facing USC on Saturday or the Wildcats could fall out of the top four in the conference and lose the first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.
“The players have to figure it out,” Barnes said. “They got to play harder and they gotta want to rebound. They gotta want to box out and that’s the effort thing and a mentality. They gotta get tired of losing. Right now I don’t think they are.”