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NCAA Tournament: Offensive struggles, hot-shooting North Carolina end Arizona women’s basketball’s run

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Arizona v. North Carolina Photo by Mike Mattina/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats came out looking like their offensive woes were behind them. They were up 9-8 over North Carolina halfway through the first quarter. They didn’t score again until after halfway through the second quarter. It was the difference in the game as the Tar Heels ended the season of last year’s national runner-up with a 63-45 victory.

The Wildcats hit just 28.8 percent of their shots including 7 of 27 three-pointers. They also had to overcome a 7 to 24 free-throw disparity and hit just four of those seven free throws. The Tar Heels were whistled for just six fouls to the 21 called on Arizona, including a technical called on Lauren Ware for celebrating a blocked shot.

The taunting tech came at a crucial point in the game. Arizona had just started scoring again and closed the deficit to 10. The Wildcats seemed to have momentum. When it was over, North Carolina was up by 12 again.

Some women’s basketball fans online felt that the taunting tech was something that would not have been called in a men’s game. Arizona fans can look back on Sunday’s men’s game against TCU and wonder if the on-court celebrations in that game would be considered taunting.

Barnes said that she felt that the officials were very good, but she called the tech “interesting” and agreed that it might not be called on a man.

“ I do,” Barnes said. “I absolutely do. There’s a list. I think male coaches can coach extremely different than women do, and I think that kind of stuff. But also, I don’t know, because maybe the NCAA Tournament, when all eyes are on that, I think they also have to be really stringent with the rules and I get that, too.”

Sam Thomas led the team with 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting in her final college game. She also had two rebounds, an assist, and two steals.

When the game was over, Thomas stood at center court, hugging Cate Reese. She walked off waving and blowing kisses to the fans.

“Sorry, all the questions are directed at me, I’m going to start getting emotional,” Thomas said as she started to cry. “These fans and this team have been everything for me. Sorry, trying to get this out.

“Yeah, talking with Cate who has obviously been here through four of my five years here, I’ve lived with her the last three years. She’s like family to me now. Her sister and I were best friends. We came in together as well as freshmen. She was on the team. So just built a great relationship with her. So obviously seeing her cry is going to make me cry.

“I was trying to hold it in the best I could, but once I saw her and she was saying she’s going to miss me next year, it’s not going to be the same, and I just really wanted to take that moment with her.

“And obviously just exiting the court and looking at everyone in the arena knowing it was my last time being on the court as a Wildcat in my uniform. But it’s just knowing that I think the fans are going to follow me on my next adventure in life. They are all like family to me and they just made this place a great place to be.”

Bendu Yeaney also scored in double figures with 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting. She added three rebounds and two assists.

Barnes was not pleased with the defensive play of her starting five and put Derin Erdogan and Koi Love in at 4:53 in the first quarter. The offensive woes started, and none of the groups she tried were able to stop it. Arizona would not score again until 3:52 left in the half when Thomas hit a 3.

As the returners and Barnes look towards next year, Thomas will be someone that is difficult to replace.

“That’s what a student-athlete is: It is Sam, and she gave so much to this program,” Barnes said. “As a coach, the special things, not only graduating and getting her master’s degree but for her to do everything with such high class and character and represent our school so well...Every coach would love to have a team full of Sams, and I wish I could clone her and keep her forever. And she would stay two more years if she could because she’s not ready to go out in the real world. She’s like the perfect — the perfect player.

“Yeah, I hope to find another player like her one day, but I think they are rare. I think a player like her will come along every ten years.”