Last year, the Arizona Wildcats had the most trouble when faced with a team that had length and size inside. In the offseason, UA head coach Adia Barnes made the move to get stronger in the frontcourt. It has allowed the Wildcats to dominate smaller teams, but that recipe didn’t work in a 56-47 loss to No. 23 Ole Miss on Sunday morning.
The Wildcats were cold on offense. They shot just 31.3 percent in the first half and went 1 for 10 from the 3-point line. Fortunately for them, Ole Miss was even colder in the first half of the game. The Rebels hit just 23 percent of their shots and went 0 for 5 from distance. The score was 22-16 in Arizona’s favor after the first 20 minutes.
“They were so big and long that they were just dominating us,” said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin.
The Wildcats were led by Maya Nnaji with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal. She didn’t get a lot of help when it came to scoring, though. No one else on the team scored more than seven points.
The big difference came after the half. Ole Miss found its offensive game while Arizona continued to struggle against a zone that McPhee-McCuin said they put in the night before.
“We never play zone, but in my heart, I was like, ‘We need to play zone,’” McPhee-McCuin said.
Coming into the game, the Wildcats were led in scoring by Kailyn Gilbert and Esmery Martinez. Both struggled against the zone, going a combined 4 for 22 from the field and 1 for 9 from 3-point distance.
“They don’t typically play a lot of zone,” Barnes said. “They’re just really big, and we had a hard time getting the ball in the sweet spots where we really needed to get the ball. And then I think, for us, we continue to struggle from the 3-point line. So yeah, it was hard. I think just, it kind of changes the way we play. And they’re long and athletic, so the zone was really extended.”
The Rebels hit 48.4 percent of their shots in the second half. They also went to the line 15 times in the last 20 minutes, although they only converted on 60 percent of those free throws. Meanwhile, Arizona hit 33.3 percent of their shots during the second half and 32.2 percent for the game. From distance, the Wildcats were just 3 for 17.
Arizona also had difficulty getting to the line. In the blowout win over Memphis on Saturday, the Wildcats went to the line 25 times. Against Ole Miss, they only shot eight free throws.
“The difference in the game was the third quarter,” Barnes said. “Every other quarter I thought we did a good job defensively. We held them in the first quarter 20 percent from the field, and then 27 percent. And then the third quarter happened. They shot almost 60 percent, 59 percent. So, that was really the difference. And then we had a really tough time rebounding.”
The Wildcats will return to the court to play either South Dakota or Michigan on Monday, Nov. 20. The game will be streamed on FloHoops beginning at 12:30 p.m. MST.