Heading into her final regular season game at McKale Center, fifth-year senior Jade Loville said that they wanted to go out with a bang. No. 18 Arizona women’s basketball did just that against No. 21 Colorado on senior day with a 61-42 win.
“We’re really proud of the way our team responded,” said Arizona head coach Adia Barnes. “Really proud of how we stepped up. We knew that we had to win some games. We knew that this weekend was just critical for us in our standings in the Pac 12, standings to possibly host, just a lot. It meant a lot of different things. And to beat number four in the country on Friday and defend them well then to turn around after that high...and bounce back on Sunday and beat another Top 25 team, it says a lot. So, we’re really proud of the way we played this weekend.”
All of Arizona’s six seniors got into the scoring column. Shaina Pellington led the way with 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting. She added three rebounds, five assists, two blocks, and a steal.
Pellington surpassed the 1,500 career mark in points between her time at Oklahoma and Arizona during the game. She ended the game with 1,512 career points with two regular season games to go.
“I mean, I’ve been playing college basketball for a while, so it’s like, damn, it’s about time,” Pellington said.
Esmery Martinez also scored in double figures with 14 points, seven rebounds, and one steal.
Playing in the last regular season home game after five years of starting every game, Cate Reese had seven points, six rebounds, an assist, a block, and a steal.
Helena Pueyo had five points on 2-for-5 shooting to go with five rebounds, one assist, and two steals.
Jade Loville added two points, a rebound, and a steal while Lauren Fields had one point, two rebounds, two assists, and three steals.
As Arizona was honoring its seniors, the fans were getting to see some of the future. Freshmen Maya Nnaji and Paris Clark both had strong showings and all four of the Wildcats’ freshmen got into the game.
“Paris has been playing really well,” Barnes said. “She’s the one that’s created her own opportunities. So, I’d say a couple of months ago at practice she wasn’t as focused and as intentional about things. And I think the past month—might say the turning point for her was that Utah game at Utah—she’s a lot more focused, she’s more confident, and she’s coming in and making plays. Whether it’s hitting big shots or getting offensive rebounds or playing tenacious defense, she’s really stepped up and done a really good job. And for me, it’s always hard, because it’s senior day, and it wasn’t Jade’s or Lauren’s best day, and those things are hard. But they’ve won so many games for us, and there’s a reason why they start. So, that’s not the way I wanted it to go exactly today...And Maya she was solid inside. Her defense is improving. For her to be three for six, and not make silly fouls, and she’s done a better job of boxing out, I think she’s just continuing to get better. And that’s the future for us and players that we’re gonna really need next year because we’re losing a lot of people.”
Nnaji had six points on 3-for-6 shooting. Her first was a turnaround jumper over former Wildcat forward Aaronette Vonleh. She also contributed one rebound and one block in just over 15 minutes of play.
Clark was tenacious on defense and the boards. She played 21 minutes with three points, four rebounds, an assist, and one steal. After one rebound, she got trapped under the basket and had the presence of mind to bounce it off one of the Colorado defenders to retain possession.
The Wildcats held the Buffaloes to 28.3 percent from the floor and 1-12 from the 3-point line. They were narrowly outrebounded by CU 36-34 after being outrebounded 48-29 in the seven-point loss in Boulder.
The weekend sweep against two teams regarded highly by both the polls and the NET helped maintain Arizona’s hopes of rising high enough to host the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament and get a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.
“We have a couple games left here, I think,” Reese said optimistically.
The Wildcats are now one game behind Colorado for the No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, which would mean avoiding Stanford in the semifinals. They are half a game in front of No. 16 UCLA for the No. 4 seed as the Bruins prepare to take on the No. 3 Cardinal in Maples Pavilion on Monday. California’s overtime upset of No. 25 USC put Arizona two games in front of the Women of Troy. The Wildcats also hold the tiebreaker over both UCLA and USC.
Colorado will host Stanford and Cal next week while Arizona goes to Oregon and Oregon State. Both the Ducks and the Beavers were swept on their trips to the Washington schools. UO is now on a seven-game losing streak and OSU is on an eight-game losing streak.
Arizona honored Reese, Pellington, Loville, and Pueyo after the game. Both Reese and Pellington talked about tearing up on the court during the ceremony.
“Happy tears,” Reese said. “I mean, our fans, they’ve been amazing. The community support behind women’s basketball. When I came here seeing it and now having 8,600 or however many people at this game for a Sunday senior night, I think is amazing. And it’s why I came here. So, I mean, just happy. Me and Shaina, we have more time left. A couple more games, hopefully....I think we’re ready to leave a mark for the end of our career here.”