It was Shaina Pellington’s night. The Arizona point guard hit the first 11 of her shots and set a career high with 35 points as the No. 18 Wildcats beat No. 4 Utah 82-72. It was their first win over a Top 5 team in conference play since they beat Stanford in overtime in 2020.
Pellington ended the night 13 for 18 from the field. She hit 8 of 11 free throws and added eight rebounds, two assists, and five steals with no turnovers.
“I was in the groove,” Pellington said. “I feel like once I saw the first one go in and the second one go in, the third one go in, I was like, ‘Okay.’ …It just kept going and going and going, and I was just like, ‘That’s great.’…But I also wanted to make sure that I was taking shots that made sense…for me and in the flow of the game, and I just kind of focused on continuing to make the shots that I was taking.”
Pellington didn’t just make layups. She scored from midrange and went 1 for 2 from beyond the arc.
“I think now after you see the ball go in the hoop over the last couple games, she’s more confident,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “She’s taking it. And so, I think teams are gonna have to make the choice. Do they want to continue to not guard her there? And then when they do guard her, she’s gonna have lanes to the basket. So, this is a part of her game that she needed to develop and I’m proud of her for continuing to develop it because, as a player, it’s very difficult.”
After the game, Pellington included her parents in the “bang the drum” celebration, hitting it 20 times in Arizona’s fifth-straight 20-win season.
“Shaina’s parents don’t get to come here a lot,” Barnes said. “And during COVID they never got to come and travel because the [Canadian] borders were closed...Her dad’s a coach and was her coach for many years. Hadn’t seen her play a long time, so that’s why I wanted her to bring him out for the drum.”
It wasn’t just Pellington, though. The three seniors who helped take the Wildcats to the national championship game in 2021 all scored in double figures in what could be the final weekend in McKale Center for all three.
Helena Pueyo went 3 for 6 and scored 12 points. She added four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block. Cate Reese went 7 for 11 with 16 points, two rebounds (both on the offensive end), and one block.
“It’s the last weekend, so they played with a lot of pride,” Barnes said.
Pueyo hit her first two shots and continued to take shots.
“I feel I’m just starting to be more aggressive and working on that,” Pueyo said. “I’m also always looking for my teammates, because I love to pass.”
Just like in Salt Lake City, the Wildcats battled fouls. Both Esmery Martinez and Jade Loville had three fouls in the first half. Arizona had four players with three fouls by halfway through the third quarter.
Neither the fans nor Barnes were happy with the officiating. Barnes told the Pac-12 Network at halftime that there were “things I don’t agree with” that were being called. In the third quarter, she finally forced the issue and came out onto the court after a foul was called on Pellington with 5:35 left in the quarter. The technical foul assessed to Barnes and Pellington’s common foul put the Utes on the line for four of their 28 free throws.
“It’s never on purpose,” Barnes said. “I just thought, it was just a lot of calls that were tough. But you know, it’s also hard to call this type of game. We’re aggressive. I just thought there was a lot of stuff that wasn’t going our way. And I thought at that time I just needed to say what I thought.”
It seemed to have the desired effect. Through the end of the third quarter, the Utes went to the line 22 times compared to 12 for Arizona. In the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were sent to the line 18 times compared to six for Utah.
The Utes weren’t able to lean on their strengths throughout the game. They went just 4 for 19 from beyond the arc and 18 for 28 from the free throw line.
They also had to play without Alissa Pili for over five minutes of game time at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth periods. Pili went down under the Wildcats’ basket with 2:35 to go in the third. After staying down for a few minutes, she left the game, returning at 6:35 in the fourth.
Pellington missed time earlier in the game with an injury to her ankle.
“It doesn’t feel very good right now,” Pellington said after the game. “It’s sore, but I feel like we have a really good athletic training staff and I feel like they’ll have me back and ready in no time before the game against Colorado.”
The win was big for Arizona in its attempt to stay in the top four of the Pac-12 standings and get a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The Wildcats also have an outside chance at moving into the top 16 of the NCAA Tournament seeds and securing homecourt advantage in the opening rounds. A win over the No. 6 team in the NET could help them reach that goal.