The Arizona Wildcats withstood a strong challenge from UNLV to win their NCAA Tournament first round game 72-67 Saturday night at McKale Center. Here’s our game recap.
After the game, Adia Barnes, Shaina Pellington, Cate Reese and Sam Thomas spoke to the media. Here’s what they said:
Barnes on her overall thoughts from the game: “I’m very happy. The game wasn’t pretty at all times. I thought that we struggled defensively in some points of the game. I think they hit some really big shots, tough shots. I thought first half the post players were way too comfortable inside, hitting some tough shots, but I think it was too easy in the beginning of the game, then they got really confident.
Usually I look at the stat sheet, I don’t like the fact we shot 53 percent, but hey, it’s March and I’m happy that we won. So I’ll take it. It can be ugly, can be whatever, but a win is a win, and this is a good way to start after being off for a few weeks.”
Reese on how it felt to be back out on the court: “I mean, I was nervous. I was excited. I think my teammates did a great job of encouraging me. I think I missed some shots I normally wouldn’t, but I haven’t played in a while so I was a little rusty. But my teammates did a great job of finding me and encouraging me, and I was super excited to be back on the floor with them.”
Reese on whether the first couple minutes were nerve-racking: “I think the game having so much pressure, I’m always nervous for those. But I was ready. My athletic trainers did a great job of getting me back and ready in rehab, so I was pretty confident in my abilities.”
Reese on how to avoid another slow start: “I think our defense was a little bit lacking, like Coach Adia said at the beginning. They were too comfortable. They were hitting shots that sometimes were tough. I think just being that Arizona defense that we normally bring, we have to bring that from the get-go here on out. It’s do or die, so we have to be ready.”
Barnes on the lack of first half scoring: “I think some of our problems in the first half was we weren’t rotating. So we have a certain kind of defense, but then on the backside we have to rotate. Because especially if we’re trapping, trapping you have two people on the ball so you have a disadvantage two passes away. It’s always an open shot.
For some reason we were stuck like glue on the weak side and that’s not what you do defensively, you help and rotate, but we didn’t do that early, and I thought we did a better job. We adjusted, we changed our pick-and-roll defense because it wasn’t working in the beginning, and I thought we did a way better job of containing them off the dribble later. But definitely got to work and look at that rotation.”
Pellington on scoring a career-high: “I think I was just comfortable. Once I hit — especially when I start hitting threes, I feel like I’m really in my element. I’m like, okay, they can’t guard me, especially when I was attacking the rim, as well. I just felt super comfortable, and I think my teammates allowed me to do that. They gave me the confidence. They told me keep going, keep going, they can’t keep guard you. That really helped me when I was on the floor.”
Thomas on Pellington’s importance to the offense: “Yeah, it’s really nice to have a player like Shaina where you feel like she can get to the basket at any moment easily. I know it’s probably easier said than done, but Shaina makes it look so easy, so having someone like her able to drive it and get those lay-ups, it really opens up the floor for us shooters and also the post players because people are going to have to sink in the paint now and try and guard her, and she still gets it done inside. Shaina just does a great job, and then obviously once they started changing the rhythm I think Cate started getting hot, we were able to get some more open shots.”
Thomas on Derin Erdogan’s contributions off the bench: “Yeah, Derin earns her minutes every day in practice. We see her, she goes against Shaina every day in practice it seems like. We were confident with putting Derin in. I feel like that’s why Adia put her in, just because she sees what she does in practice, and Derin did a great job coming in today giving us some quick points, playing defense, give Shaina a little breather and kind of give us that spark off the bench that we needed to get out of the lull that we were in.”
Pellington on what led to the defensive intensity late in the game: “Well, like you said, in the first half defensively we kind of gave them a little bit too many options, like they were getting basically whatever they wanted, and when the game was on the line in the second half we knew we needed to come together as a team and get some stops.
In practice every day we work on this thing where we do stops and scores, stops and scores, how many stops can you get and how many scores can you get. So I think it was just in the stretch that was just what we needed to do. We needed to connect more stops with more scores so we could be successful in that, and that’s what we did.”
Barnes on Arizona adjusting as the game went on: “I’m wondering the same thing, why did we wait until the third quarter to play defense, because that sense of urgency that you saw on the ball pressure, we need to have from the beginning, and we know that adjusting now, Cate coming back and different things, but that sense of urgency we can’t wait until we have a deficit, and we can’t wait until the game is on the line or they make a run. We have to do that consistently, and we’re capable.
A lot of people talk about that we struggle offensively. We’re not going to turn into some high-powered offensive team. That’s not us. When people say the word “struggle,” it’s who we are. It’s who I choose to start, it’s our strengths and weaknesses, and our strength is not going to go out there and score 100 points. We’re not like Maryland. But we need to go and play defense and manufacture points for offense.
So to me it’s never the struggle offensively. If you see UNLV, it looked like they were playing a zone, right? But they weren’t, they were playing a sagging man, so they’re not guarding us. That doesn’t mean because you’re open shoot it, that means you burst the ball, get movement, and that’s some things we have to do better. But we’re not going to be some high-powered, high-octane offense. That’s just not who Arizona is.”
Thomas on seeing her sister Jade come into the game late: “I was relieved that the lead was up like that. I know her minutes are a little bit limited, so to know that she was going in when we had a pretty decent lead, it was nice to see her touch the ball a little bit. My family was obviously happy and then she was guarding Maddie, she’s known Maddie for a while so they were probably over there joking. But it was good to see her get on the court first time in an NCAA Tournament so really happy for her and then happy for us to move on to the next round.”
Barnes on Thomas’ defensive prowess: “So what Sam does consistently it never pops up in the box score unless it says monstrous blocks. She had some phenomenal blocks today. But she’s consistent. She’s always in the right place. She usually guards one of the best offensive players from the other team. She does so many little things. A lot of times she may not get the steal but her pressure and her placement leads to other steals. The stuff she does, even when she’s not scoring, it’s very difficult to take Sam off the floor.
Then she comes up with these hard blocks. Not too many guards in the country can block shots on a jump shooter or block shots the way that she does. In my opinion she should have been Defensive Player of the Year. In my opinion she’s very, very underrated defensively, and she has been for her whole career here. She is a great defensive player but she’s not a flashy defensive player besides the blocked shots. But she is valuable and she’s a defensive stopper and she cancels a lot of people. Her defense is extremely underrated and does not show up in every category in the stat sheet.”
Reese on Lauren Ware’s impact: “Me and Lauren, we go against each other every day in practice. She’s a great defensive player, too. I mean, she gets great blocks, she gets great rebounds. She’s gotten so much stronger, she’s more on balance, and that’s something that all of us post players need to work on.
She stepped up big for us, especially when I was out. She did a great job. I’m really excited that I get to play with her.”
Pellington on elevating her game in big situations: “I just come out into games just doing what I need to do. We have a scout, we want to execute it the best way we can. Whatever my team needs in the game I’m going to do. I’m going to put it all on the line.
It’s a win-or-lose situation. You lose, you’re out, so you know what, I wouldn’t be okay with knowing that I didn’t give it my all, so every game I try to do that.”
Barnes on choosing Pellington to take two late technical foul free throws: “Okay I’m going to share the whole story. What happens on the court stays on the court, but I’m going to share this to everybody. So we’re talking on the side. Someone had a little bit of an injury, the person I was choosing for the free throw, and could not shoot.
So after that I said, okay, who feels good about shooting. They all raise their hand. So we were kind of laughing about it because they were like, choose me, choose me, choose me, and then Lauren and I decided to choose Shaina, and I said Shaina, you’d better make them or else you’re going to do push-ups. So then Shaina went out there and she made them but then she missed the other two, but she made the important ones. It was kind of a joke because they all wanted to shoot it so we were laughing about it. It was actually funny at the time. It doesn’t sound funny now but it was very funny and we were joking, but I was glad she made them, she made the shots.”
Barnes on playing Aaronette Vonleh in key moments Saturday: “I felt good but then we gave up a couple and-ones and I think those are the young mistakes that we can’t make because the game — it was still a game. A minute is a long time if you’re up six points.
Those mistakes can’t happen, but those are teaching moments for me, so I have to tell Netty, you don’t go for the foul in that situation or Gisela. But they’re freshmen, and they’re the future, and they both have a tremendous amount of potential. But just learning when and where to do stuff, when to pop back, and knowing on the scout it specifically says what 45 does and how she scores. So the first possession she comes and she spins, so you have to know personnel, and that’s a moment that I have to teach them.
I can’t sub in players and we give up two or three and-ones. I think that’s just not what we can do. Yeah, they may not go in as early now. That’s just a learning moment. This is March, and it’s one-and-done, so unfortunate.”
Barnes on Erdogan’s progress this season: “So Derin is tremendous in practice every single day. Derin plays with 100 percent. She plays with her heart. Her and Shaina go at it and battle every single day and she’s helped Shaina become a better player. I think she deserved that, and I thought she gave us really good minutes, and at Stanford she came in and she was solid.
I believe in her. Sometimes it’s just difficult because she’s playing behind Shaina, and Shaina is a really good player, and she’s playing behind Helena who’s a really good player. It wasn’t Helena’s night. She was a little passive when she came in, so I wanted someone to have a little bit more ball pressure, and I know what I’m going to get from Derin. So Derin came in, did that, she was solid, so then that’s how you earn a few more minutes the next time. Derin has been great.
I think what I love about Derin and things I love about players is she never complains. She doesn’t ask, Coach, why aren’t I playing, how do I play more. She gives it her all every single day and just gets better. I’m proud of her. She will earn more minutes. I just don’t know when and how, but she will and I’ll find that because I like what she does.”
Barnes on playing an NCAA Tournament game at McKale Center: “Yeah, incredible. It was funny because you forget about that because I feel like last year it was just a long year, feels like it was two years ago. But Trinity Baptist, she came back and she said, Coach, I never got to see what an Arizona crowd was like, and that didn’t dawn on me until she said it, and I’m like, oh, yeah, because she played here. We talked about that. That was one of the things, I recruited her and I said you’re going to play in front of 10,000, 15,000 people. COVID, I didn’t think COVID would last that long, so she didn’t get to experience that until today as a fan.
That’s one of the special things about Arizona. There’s a lot of men’s basketball cities that draw a lot, and I think Arizona is a basketball town, and so for us to draw — I’m telling you if it wasn’t spring break for a lot of schools and there wasn’t COVID, we would have sold out, and I’m very confident that I think we’ll sell out on Monday, but people love women’s basketball here, and there’s very few places in the country where you can draw — I would guess 12,000 people. How many were here? Okay, so 10.
I think not a lot of places can do that, and we are a special place because we can do that because when you have the chance to play in front of that type of crowd, it ignites you, it’s energizing, and it’s just an incredible atmosphere.
Then I said red out two days ago, and everybody wore red, so I think those things are incredible and our players do a good job of engaging the fans, and the fans love our team. So I love that as a coach.”
Barnes on UNLV coach Lindy La Rocque’s performance: “Yeah, I think Lindy has done a tremendous job. There was no doubt in my mind that she was going to be successful. She’s learned from one of the best and that’s Tara, so she learned from her as a player and then she learned from her as a coach. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that she was going to ice and not guard, play the percentages and stuff because that’s what Tara does.
But she’s a great coach. She’s turned the program around. First NCAA Tournament in 20 years, I think that shows her work. A very good team, well-coached. They run good offense. They’re organized. I think she’s doing a great job.
I think she’s going to — I think UNLV is going to have to try to keep her home, otherwise she’s going to probably move to a bigger school in a couple years. But I think she’s doing a good job.”
Barnes on what it would take to go on another deep run this year: “You know, the difference between this year and last year was an X factor named Aari McDonald who was unstoppable, who got really hot in the tournament. I think that I saw spurts of our defensive pressure, and that can bother teams.
So when I scouted, I watched like six games of UNLV, UNLV hadn’t faced a team with pressure like ours, but we didn’t consistently do that for 40 minutes.
So if we want to go back to the championship game, we can’t play defense like that, we can’t allow UNLV to shoot 53 percent. That’s just not realistic for us to do that and have success. We aren’t a team that’s going to go out and score 90 points. That’s not what we’re capable of doing. We’re capable of holding a team to 50.
I’m not happy that we gave UNLV 67 points. We won’t win like that against better opponents as we get deeper in the tournament. We have to be lock-down defenders. If we don’t score in spurts, then they can’t score. Just a little bit better rotation, better ball pressure, those kind of things, and I saw glimpses of that. I didn’t see that consistently. That’s what you have to do. We have to be more consistent.
I think that some of the things that were missing this year from last year was people didn’t realize how valuable Trinity was. Trinity gave us muscle and strength inside and really dominant on the ball, defending, dominant in the post. We’re missing that little bit. Our personnel is just different. And then Aari, Aari was — she was basically almost guarding you out of bounds, and she was pressuring full court and she manufactured a lot of steals, so we were missing that.
Shaina is capable of doing that, but she has to do that consistently for more time, so just a little bit better and stronger and I think more of a dog mentality. We’ve been missing that at times this year, and I’m looking for that and waiting for that, and it can’t just be 20 minutes or 25 minutes. It has to be 40. We just don’t have that yet.”
Barnes on whether Pellington’s play Saturday is what’s expected of her: “Yeah, it is, and I think defensively I got on her because her defense was not good in the first half. She was 10 feet away from the ball and traps not good.
Honestly, that’s one of the reasons why I also put Derin in, because sometimes that makes Shaina go a little bit harder, so you see she came in after that and played harder. Sometimes some of those subs are strategic.
But I think Shaina is capable of pressing the ball like Aari did. Shaina is a tremendous athlete, but I think she has to believe she can do that because she has the ability to do it.
Honestly I didn’t even realize she had 30 points. I knew she was scoring, but I felt like she was missing a lot of lay-ups but she really wasn’t. I look up and I saw the 30.
You have to understand how difficult that was. So Shaina is being defended and she’s being defended from me to you, so they weren’t guarding her. They were going under on every single on-ball and they were deep plugging, so when Shaina tried to drive there were two players there and she still found a way to get there. So she worked very hard for these 30 points.
But I think that she did a good job, and she’s our catalyst on offense and on defense, so as Shaina goes, we go, and when she’s really stagnant with the ball, we’re stagnant. I need this from Shaina, I expect it from Shaina. Maybe it’s not 30 points, but I love the fact that she was 10 for 19, she had four assists, four steals and zero turnovers. That’s not how she would have been in the beginning of the year. She would have had four turnovers. So she’s doing a good job of running our team and they’re following her. But we need her to be aggressive.
Now the other people that we have to turn to, Sam can’t take two shots in the game. We can’t win like that. And then Lauren, we have to give her some more shots. Everybody is in the paint. Some of the lineups, we may be a good defensive lineup but then offensively we’re not guarded a lot. It’s really hard to run offense.
But Shaina has to get us in transition and get us going downhill because if we’re just in the half court, it’s like everybody is in the paint, looks like a zone, and then you go to screen but there’s no one to screen. We have to figure that out and be able to put shooters in that can defend and then loosen up the defense. But those are our challenges, and they have been all year.”
Barnes on Reese’s outing: “I thought she did great. Her shot was a little bit short a couple times on the perimeter. I thought her energy, her enthusiasm, I thought she played great.
People ask if she’s 100 percent. Yeah, she’s 100 percent. But she’s been out, and she does have an injury. It is what it is. But she played hard. She’s not hesitating at all. She has a little brace on. What she brings us, just her presence is more valuable than even her points. Just you have to guard her. She’s aggressive.
I thought sometimes a couple times she forced it when I want her to move the ball, but I like the fact she’s trying to score because sometimes we don’t have anybody trying to score, so she brings that to us, so we’re better with her.
We would have won more games towards the end of the season if she would have been playing, and I think Lauren stepped up big time when Cate was out. Lauren was a presence. Lauren is playing so much stronger, and I think Lauren is another player that can be in double digits. She could have been a double-double tonight. We need that from Lauren.
I was talking to PJ earlier in the weekend, we don’t have an X factor. There isn’t one person that’s going to come out and score 30, 40 points all of a sudden, but it’s by committee. So that means Lauren has to give a little bit more. That means Koi has to come and play the better defense. Bendu has to attack and hit those shots, so everybody has to do their job a little bit better this time of year because we don’t have a Sarah. If you think of all the top teams, everybody usually has a go-to player that they can pass the ball in and score, and we’re just different and that’s okay. We have multiple players that can do different things, and that’s what I like about the team.”
Barnes on her early thoughts on second round opponent North Carolina: “Yeah, so North Carolina is really good in transition. They have some really good guards. I know Deja Kelly from the recruiting process and she played for a friend of mine for AAU. She’s a good player.
They play a shorter bench, they play seven people a lot. I think we’re going to get zoned. That’s just kind of what they do a lot. It’s going to be a hard game. But I think one thing I like and one thing that we play well, we usually shoot the ball better at home, but we’re playing in front of probably a sold-out McKale. So that is our sixth man. We’re very hard to beat at home. We’ve lost one game here in the last year. It was UCLA this year when Cate got hurt first game after she was hurt.
I bet on us at home. I don’t take North Carolina lightly. They’re coached well. They have some good players. But we’re also good and we didn’t play our best today.
So I think that’s going to be a good game, but right now we’re seeing across the country there’s a lot of upsets, so it is what it is. If we don’t show up and we don’t play and put together 40 minutes of basketball, we’re not going to win, and that’s the reality.
But I think we’re very confident and capable at home, so I like the matchup.”
Barnes on the increased parity in women’s basketball: “So the difference that I see in the last like 10 years is — or last five years I’d say more is 10 years ago, five, 10 years ago like when Diana Taurasi was coming out and all those great players, everybody that was really good went to UConn. If you came from California, you were going across the country going to UConn.
So I think all the good players went to a couple places.
I think now a lot of West Coast kids are staying on the West Coast. People are staying closer to home, and I think COVID is a factor in that. I think now after COVID people don’t want to be far from home. I think there’s a lot of different reasons.
But I also think if you look at South Carolina, a lot of players want to go and build something different. So players recruit other players, so if you see I think they have 12 All-Americans, but you saw a couple good ones from an AAU club go there. Then they recruit their friends and they say, hey, let’s go win here.
It wasn’t like that years ago. It was like, you’re going to go to UConn because you knew with UConn statistically you were probably going to go to a Final Four and win a championship. Now it’s different, and I think coaches have moved around.
I think there’s more former players coming up and coaching.
The process is different. So I like that, and I like the fact that for us in the Pac-12, I like the fact that we’re representing so there’s going to be three of us still in the tournament. I like the fact that we can keep good West Coast kids at home, and that’s really important. We have a geographical footprint when we recruit, and keeping those kids in the Pac-12 at home is important, and that’s just important for our league and our basketball.”