In the final of four straight road games in the Pacific Northwest, the Arizona Wildcats had their worst loss of the season, falling 78-57 to Washington State in Beasley Coliseum. A tight first half was followed by a collapse beginning in the middle of the third quarter, turning a three-point game at the half into a 21-point rout.
Both teams came out strong offensively. The Cougars shot 41.2 percent from the floor in the opening quarter. The Wildcats were even better at 42.9 percent. The result was an 18-17 advantage for WSU.
Things cooled off for both teams in the second quarter, but the Wildcats kept in touch by driving the ball and getting fouled. They went to the line six times in each of the first two quarters. With just under three minutes to go in the half, they took the lead.
Once again, Arizona had a letdown at the end of the half. A missed 3-point shot by Courtney Blakely was followed by a foul by Blakely that put Washington State on the line. Two made free throws by Bella Muraketete gave the Cougars a 34-31 lead going into the locker room.
“We had momentum and when we subbed, we kind of lost the lead,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “So that’s another hard thing. We have to be able to sub, and we have to have everybody coming in contributing with the same intensity.”
Arizona kept it close through the first half of the third quarter. It was a one-point game with five minutes left in the period. Then, things got out of hand.
“We really had a tough time guarding this specific action,” Barnes said. “It was kind of like a misdirection stagger that left the shooter off the top...They scored 10 points off of that play. Then we call a timeout. We made some adjustments and then took away that play. I thought we started off the first couple minutes okay, but then just kind of transition defense was a struggle. Gave up I don’t know how many points in the third quarter on transition defense, but it was rough.”
The Cougars pushed the lead out to double digits for the first time in the third quarter. Things just kept spiralling from there.
The foul situation reversed in the second half. Arizona shot 12 free throws in the first half. Washington State shot 12 in the second half. Even worse, many of the Cougars’ free throws were and-1s after made buckets. When the Wildcats weren’t giving up 3-point shots, they were giving up 3-point plays too often.
On the positive side, the Wildcats improved on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 40-39. Most of the team avoided foul trouble for the bulk of the game, as well. Until late in the game, only Isis Beh was in foul trouble.
Less aggressive defense can help avoid fouls, but it can have its own downsides. Arizona turned Wazzu over just six times. A team that averages over 12 steals per game had just three against the Cougars in Pullman.
Kailyn Gilbert led Arizona with a 22-point, 11-rebound double-double. She added three assists. All three stats were team highs with the assists tying Helena Pueyo.
Esmery Martinez was just short of a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds. She also had an assist, a block, and three steals.
Jada Williams also scored in double digits. She had 10 points, five rebounds, and two assists.
Barnes said that two of Arizona’s starters were sick before and during the game. However, she didn’t think the short bench was the deciding factor.
“Usually great teams only play seven players, anyway,” she said. “So I don’t use that as an excuse. But I think the close games for a young team really defeats you. I honestly think that. So I have to find a way that shifts our mentality, help us not lose confidence and still get better. And I think there’s a couple players, they’re losing confidence. I see it. I think as a team when you’re so close and you don’t come up with that end result, I think it’s deflating, especially when you have a lead, and you kind of lose it, then you climb back. I think those are hard, hard things to do for a new young team. But we have to figure it out. This is the hardest chunk in our schedule and it’s four road games against teams that we had chances to beat and did not find a way to do it. So this is the end of that. A great thing is we play two good teams at home, but those are gonna be hard games too. So it’s like four games in a row that are hard but so are the two at home and then go back to the road to two really good teams. So i It doesn’t get any easier, unfortunately, and I hate to say that.”