Jada Williams had a career day in an empty Matthew Knight Arena, but it wasn’t enough for the Arizona Wildcats to overcome extreme disparities in rebounds and free throws. For the fourth straight game, UA played a one-possession game. For the third time in those four, it lost as Oregon defeated Arizona 70-68 on Sunday afternoon.
“I felt like we came out really flat,” said Arizona head coach Adia Barnes. “And I could see in the morning we were flat. So, part of that is fatigue, for sure, but that’s not an excuse I’m gonna make. The other is just like our fight. I thought Jada was ready with her voice and her mentality. And I think other people were playing hard at moments, but that no one was able to do the extra to help energize us.”
The Wildcats took a 2-0 lead to start the game, but it was the last time they led. Both Esmery Martinez and Breya Cunningham struggled with fouls as the Ducks went to the line 28 times. The 19 foul shots they hit were more than enough to decide the game, especially when compared to Arizona’s 5-for-10 day from the stripe.
That wasn’t the biggest problem, though. Once again, Arizona was outrebounded by a wide margin. That problem was exacerbated by the long absences of both starting posts due to fouls. The Ducks grabbed twice as many boards as the Wildcats, winning the stat 38-19.
How do they fix that?
“We can stop making stupid fouls and stop being out of position,” Barnes said. “But the fouls, a lot of times, are coming from a missed box out, or a just lack of focus on something else, or being out of position.”
After a double-overtime game in Corvallis on Friday, the Wildcats sometimes seemed to lack intensity. That was made worse by the empty arena.
“It’s not an excuse at all,” Barnes said. “It’s just, we were already flat. I think that makes you more flat, but I think that wasn’t the excuse. I think it was our effort and our energy which is a controllable. Which isn’t easy when there’s no fans. It reminded me of COVID. It was just weird. It felt weird, but you got to play and I think that they came out and played harder and wanted it a little bit more.”
Although Oregon held its men’s game with fans on Saturday night and the Portland Trail Blazers were scheduled to hold a game with fans on Sunday a couple of hours away, the Ducks closed their game to fans on Sunday afternoon due to the weather in the state of Oregon. Only a few handful of family and friends sat in the stands. Oregon head coach Kelly Graves’ voice could often be heard on the telecast due to the quiet arena.
One player who kept up her intensity offensively was Williams. She led the game with 23 points in 34 minutes of play, going 9 of 14 from the field and hitting 3 of 4 three-point shots.
Offense wasn’t the Wildcats’ problem, though. The team shot 50 percent including 5 of 10 from the three-point line. Missing five layups, five of their 10 free throws, and being outrebounded by 19 were daggers. Oregon had 12 offensive boards and turned those into 16 second-chance points.
“The pursuit of the rebound and the box out, that’s the difference in these games,” Barnes said. “Because we turned them over 27 times and we had 16 steals. We’re like top five in the country in steals. So, the difference is a rebound. These are the games because everything else is pretty much a wash. Shooting percentage. I mean free throws, they shot a lot more free throws. Okay, that’s bad, but like a lot of those rebounds led to fouls.”
Arizona had four players in double figures. In addition to Williams, Kailyn Gilbert (15), Helena Pueyo (11), and Breya Cunningham (10) all had at least 10 points. Gilbert added one rebound and four assists. Cunningham also had three rebounds, one block, and three steals.
Pueyo had a massive stat line that went far beyond her 5-for-7 shooting. She added two rebounds, seven assists, seven steals, and two blocks. She surpassed 250 career steals during the game. After playing more than 49 minutes on Friday, she broke 39 minutes on Sunday.
Despite a lack of energy through most of the game, the Wildcats played through the final buzzer. Oregon went up by 11 less than 30 seconds into the fourth quarter. Gilbert, Pueyo, Cunningham, and Williams all hit big shots to cut it to a single possession at various points late in the quarter. They could never get over the hump.
“We started to play harder and kind of fight and realize we could do it,” Barnes said. “I just think every time we kind of came back and went within four, then we give up a layup. That was just hard. I think a good some of the big plays, once again, are coming from rebounding. That’s the hard thing as a coach. You fight so hard, someone’s pressing, then we don’t help. Or we did this great possession where we need one stop, and it’s an offensive rebound.”
Williams hit one of her three 3-pointers with just seconds to go. That cut the lead to two. Oregon could not cleanly inbound the ball and it was stolen by Skylar Jones. Gilbert had to take a rushed shot at the buzzer that was considerably too short.
Now, Arizona is stuck in Oregon until Monday due to the weather. Because they have to use their usual mandatory day off for travel, they will not be able to practice on Tuesday. On Thursday, they will be back on the road to the Pacific Northwest again to face the Washington schools.