TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Wildcats had trouble scoring goals early in the season. Now they are coming in bunches.
The Wildcats (3-1) routed Southeast Missouri State 5-0 on a scorching Friday afternoon for their third straight win. Arizona has now scored 11 times in their last two games after mustering one goal in their first two matches.
What’s changed? They are crushing their opponents’ confidence by not letting them hang around.
“Scoring early in the last couple games makes all the difference,” said Arizona head coach Tony Amato. “You gotta get that first goal in games like this or it’s a dog fight.”
Sophomore Jada Talley (11’) and freshman Emily Knous (18’) supplied the initial spark Friday, each netting a goal in the first 20 minutes of the match.
UA centerback Samantha Falasco found Knous with a long pass on the right side of the box, and Knous immediately crossed it to a streaking Talley, who finished with her right foot.
Knous was then on the receiving end a few minutes later, knocking in a rebound after a nice setup by Amanda Porter and Hannah Clifford. It was the freshman’s first career goal.
“It was pretty exciting. I felt like it was coming for a while,” said Knous, a midfielder who has started every game this year. “I (enrolled) early in the spring, felt like I played well, just necessarily didn’t get on the scoreboard. So I felt it coming for a while and I’m glad it finally got the back of the net.”
For Talley, it was her third goal of the season. The sophomore continues to emerge as Arizona’s top scorer, which hasn’t exactly caught anyone by surprise. Talley and Amato both said they saw this kind of production coming after she performed so well in the spring.
“I got three goals in spring so I think that’s when I started being more comfortable on the ball, getting comfortable with my center [midfielders],” Talley said. “That’s what started it, knowing that somebody had to fill that spot. ... And I know I can. I know that’s what Tony recruited me to do.”
Falasco scored UA’s third goal in the 55th minute by netting a corner from Porter. Then Morgan McGarry, who initiated Arizona’s offense all day long, followed that up in the 61st minute with a laser from distance that nicked off the goalkeeper’s hands before trickling into the back of the net.
Brooke Wilson finally capped the scoring in the 82nd minute with her second goal in as many games.
“It’s a good start to this weekend,” Falasco said. “I think we’ve been playing so well, being able to find chances in the run of play and then especially off set-pieces, which we excel at.”
Arizona finished with a staggering 24-1 shot differential and held Southeast Missouri State without a shot for the first 72 minutes of the match.
Amato credited the dominant performance to his players’ execution and mental focus, seeing that they had to battle through 104-degree heat. The Wildcats rotated 24 players to stay fresh and hopped in a nearby pool minutes after the final whistle to cool off.
“You tell yourself not to think about it, but it is so hard,” Knous said of the 100-degree temperatures.
“Your body goes through things that it (normally doesn’t),” Talley added. “I was getting the chills in the heat. I was very confused but you have to keep going. Like Tony told us, ‘you know you’re getting a sub, just play for as long as I put you out there’ so you have that to look forward to.”
Even though it was a laugher, it was still an important win for the Wildcats simply because they avoided a second loss to a mid-major. Arizona fell to Albany in their season-opener before stringing together three straight wins.
Talley cringed when asked about the Albany game, but it has served as motivation for the Wildcats.
“After losing to Albany, we hit a switch,” Falasco said. “Obviously we don’t want that happening again. We definitely want to come out fighting.”
Arizona will wrap up the Sun Devil Desert Classic on Sunday when they face New Hampshire, who surprisingly beat ASU on Friday. UNH is a member of the America East, the same conference Albany is in.
Amato is well aware of that.
“They beat Albany 3-0 last year and won their league,” he said. “So we know it’s going to be a big challenge and we’re going to have to respond.”