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Arizona women’s basketball can’t maintain 3rd quarter momentum, succumb to Washington State upset

Young Black woman wearing a blue basketball jersey and red shirt, holding a basketball in her left hand. Blue arena seats behind her and a blurred image of people in the background.
Arizona women’s basketball guard Kailyn Gilbert
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Arizona takes a lot of pride in defense, but a defensive-oriented unit was not the fix against Washington State. A more offensive-minded unit got Arizona back into a game that was mostly dominated by the Cougars, but it wasn’t enough for the Wildcats to avoid the 70-59 upset. A crucial momentum shift 30 seconds into the final quarter had a huge impact on Arizona.

“We are going to win games if we can make stops and be disciplined,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “And right now, we don’t have a lot of discipline in certain areas. So, I think there comes a time where I said, ‘You know, you gotta take some accountability.’ Like I’m gonna take it. This loss is on me. I take that. I mean, it is what it is, and so I have to figure that out. I have to figure out what to do and how to do it and figure out a strategy...I’m trying to pick it out. It’s been taking me a little bit.”

Four of Arizona’s starting five had double-digit negative +/- led by Cate Reese with -22 in 28 minutes. Lauren Fields was next with -17 in 18 minutes of play. Shaina Pellington had -13 in 18 minutes of play and Jade Loville had -11 in 22 minutes. Even Esmery Martinez ended up in negative, but it was just -5 in 31 minutes.

Still, Martinez was the one whose play might have impacted the game in the most critical way.

After Arizona made a run to tie the game late in the third quarter, the Wildcats had all of the momentum. They had returned from a 12-point deficit to go into the final 10 minutes down by just two.

Just 33 seconds into the fourth quarter, Tara Wallack drove for a two-point bucket to put the Cougs up by two. After the shot, Martinez shoved Wazzu’s Bella Murekatete. The intentional foul was called.

A media timeout to review the foul was called by the officials. A rowdy Arizona crowd of 7,494 fans had what seemed like forever to lose the energy and enthusiasm in McKale. Leger-Walker went to the line and hit the two free throws to go up by four. On the ensuing possession, Ula Motuga got a bucket for the six-point lead. It was one of 7 made buckets on 11 shots for Motuga, who ended the game with 16 points.

Arizona and its fans never recovered from the swing, but heading into that series it looked like the Wildcats had everything going for them. It looked similar to the second-half explosions Arizona has had many times this season.

The Cougs led by as many as eight points in the first half, but the Wildcats fought back to make it a two-point game with several offensive-oriented players in the game down the stretch. Loville hit two of three free throws after Wallack fouled her on a 3-point shot with less than a second left in the half.

Arizona started the second half with its usual starting five, but the Wildcats couldn’t hold WSU defensively and weren’t making a dent offensively. The starters went 2 for 7 in the third quarter. Loville only got one shot and Reese didn’t take any. With Helena Pueyo taking no shots, Arizona’s top six players in the rotation had only seven shots over the third—and one of those was a 3-pointer Pellington had to take late in the shot clock.

With 5:55 to go in the third, Wazzu took a 12-point lead. Throughout the third quarter, Barnes began slowly rotating her starters out. At 8:34, Pueyo was in for Loville. At 6:40, Kailyn Gilbert came in for Pellington. At 4:37, Madi Conner was in for Fields.

The group on the floor was almost entirely offensively focused: Gilbert, Pueyo, Loville, Conner and Martinez.

“They played really good,” Barnes. “I thought that they did decent defensively. And they scored some big buckets. Madi scored. Kailyn came out on fire. There was a lot of firepower in that lineup. I think where it hurt us is Madi has to go to the four and guard Ula inside, and they did a good job of really exploiting that.”

WSU’s Jessica Clarke pushed it to 12 for the second time at 4:04 in the third. Martinez, Gilbert and Conner went on a 15-3 scoring run to tie the game with 42 seconds left in the third. McKale was rocking.

“[We were] just going in there and playing hard, trying to do whatever it takes to get the lead and kind of come back,” Conner said. “I mean, that’s kind of what we were supposed to do off the bench. Stay ready whenever you go in and just bring that spark and, honestly, do anything that you have to.”

While there were occasional defensive breakdowns with the group on the floor, the offensive ability was enough to overcome both those breakdowns and the Cougars’ offensive output. Still, Arizona would prefer not to have those breakdowns. Conner said that they need to communicate better, but it’s more than that.

“You don’t have to be the fastest in the world, but as long as you have pride, that’s gonna go a long way on the defensive end,” Gilbert said. “So just having heart and pride.”

After the Martinez intentional foul in the fourth, the Cougars outscored the Wildcats 20-11.

“The momentum shift was there,” Barnes said. “I think it was the deflation of we had fought so hard to come backa nd we were doing so well, and then that happened...I think that was just a dagger. That was all that fighting was basically for nothing kinda. I think those are mental things. But as a team...there’s a long time in the game. So, I think my thing is, that’s a long time, so we looked like we’re gonna lose. You don’t have to. Whether Esmery has four fouls, she’s out—you figure it out and you still believe you can win. And I don’t think we’ve won enough games like that, so we don’t know that...but we’re going to learn today that you lose like that.

Adia Barnes, Kailyn Gilbert and Madi Conner after falling to WSU