Heading to Los Angeles this weekend, Arizona women’s basketball needed to make something happen. With a bad showing against No. 14 UCLA and a USC team that’s receiving votes in the polls, it could mean facing No. 2 Stanford on Thursday with a three-game losing streak in tow.
The Wildcats were having none of it. It took overtime in both games, but Arizona will return to Tucson in sole possession of fourth place in the Pac-12 and on a two-game winning streak while the Cardinal will come in off a surprising loss to Washington. Arizona defeated USC 81-75 in double overtime to complete the sweep on the LA road trip for the first time since 2002.
“Just a tremendous amount of resiliency,” said Arizona head coach Adia Barnes. “Not afraid when we’re down, believing that we can still win a game. Made some huge, huge plays and buckets down the stretch. Controlled the boards.”
Going into a game against a frontcourt featuring Rayah Marshall, the third-leading shot blocker in the nation, Cate Reese showed why she’s on the latest list for the Katrina McClain Award. Reese had a career high 33 points to go with seven rebounds in 49 minutes of play.
“She wasn’t afraid,” Barnes said.
The rebounds moved Reese to 149 for the season and 923 for her career. The career rebounds put her in second place in program history, two more than her head coach. Ify Ibekwe is the career leader with 1,194 career rebounds despite only playing in 116 games—five fewer than Barnes and 27 fewer than Reese.
Shaina Pellington and Reese were strong out of the gate as Arizona led by as many as five in the opening quarter. Pellington had 17 points, five rebounds, seven assists, and four steals while matching Reese’s 49 minutes on the court.
Jade Loville went into the first overtime with just nine points for the game. She exploded over the final 10 minutes to end with 17 points, two rebounds, and an assist.
With Esmery Martinez dealing with foul trouble, Maya Nnaji had a big game. The freshman post ended with seven points, eight rebounds, and three blocks. One of those blocks came in the final minute of the first overtime with the teams tied. She had another block less than a minute into the second overtime period.
“[Nnaji] really showed composure,” Barnes said. “Did not feel like a freshman. Difficult for a freshman that hasn’t gotten a tremendous amount of opportunities when a senior has foul trouble to come in and hit big shots...Had some huge blocks around the rim. Played good defense. I thought gave incredible minutes. I’m really, really proud of her.”
It wasn’t just one or even two players, although Reese was the star of the show.
“Cate dominated the post,” Barnes said. “Jade hit some huge shots. Just a great team effort and different people stepping up at different times.”
One of those people who Barnes noted stepped up when she was needed was Helena Pueyo. Pueyo played less than four minutes, but she came in at the end of the second overtime when USC was trying to lengthen the game with fouls. Despite being cold off the bench, she calmly hit two free throws with 15 seconds to go, putting Arizona up 77-73.
Barnes said part of the lack of minutes this weekend was about matchups, but that’s not all. In this game, Barnes liked the defense of Lauren Fields and felt they needed the offense of Loville. The head coach wants to see more from her team captain.
“Just coming in and playing just a few minutes, it’s been difficult for [Pueyo] to get into a rhythm,” Barnes said. “These games are hard when you’re trying to wait for people to get into a rhythm. Helena’s a really important player and we need her to step up. We need her.”
Reese put an exclamation point on the game with two free throws of her own with a second on the clock. It provided the final six-point margin of victory.