Pac-12 tourney: UA women beat UCLA, meet ASU next

Revenge is a great motivator.  That had to be in the back of the minds of the Arizona Wildcat women basketball players as they upset UCLA last night in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament.

Now they get one more shot at beating Arizona State, an accomplishment that has eluded them so far this season.  The Sun Devils came out on top of both meetings on this year’s schedule, winning by 15 in Tempe and by seven in Tucson.

Even more frustrating for the Cats, ASU has come out a winner in 12 of the last 13 match-ups with their rivals down the I-10.

(*Update:  Make that 13 of 14, as ASU moves to the semifinals with a 68-53 win over the Cats.   ASU led all the way in the game, up 36-20 at the half.  They picked up 21 points off of Arizona’s 17 turnovers, as Kimberly Brandon led the Devils’ scoring with 15 points.  They play Stanford next.)

At first blush this season, it appeared this might be the year that Arizona begins leveling the playing field.  The Devils are operating under an interim head coach, Joe Anders, while Charli Turner Thorne takes a year off to re-charge her batteries.  And the Cats got off to their best start in a decade, winning 11 of their first 12 games.

But then the wheels came off the bus.  Arizona won just three games the rest of the way through the regular season.

It was a great win to open the conference tournament, but they struggled against the Bruins.  The Cats dug themselves into a 15-point hole early in the game and had to claw back with a 27-11 run to get into the lead with 14 minutes left on the clock.

That lead dissolved quickly and the Cats didn’t get it back until there were just 20 seconds left to play, when sophomore guard Candice Warthen drained a jumper and Arizona was able to hold on for a 61-57 win.  It was the first time the two teams had met in the conference tournament.

Davellyn Whyte, the junior guard from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, led the Cats’ scoring with 18 points and Warthen added 17.

Right now, they’re riding the euphoria that comes with a big upset – even though both teams entered the tournament with almost identical records.  UCLA was 14-15 overall and Arizona was 14-16.  But the Bruins had a considerably better conference record, which earned them a No. 5 seed, while the Cats were seeded No. 12.

However, the win makes Arizona the lowest-seeded team to advance to the tournament’s quarterfinal round.

But that was yesterday.  Today they move up the ladder to take on the No. 4 seed, ASU… and try to avoid a three-game sweep by the Devils.

This will be a back-to-back meeting for ASU, since their 70-63 victory over the Cats was the last game on the regular schedule.  And they’ve enjoyed some extra time off while waiting to play the Cats again.  The top four teams in the Pac-12 got a bye in the first round, so No. 4 ASU has been waiting in the wings to take on the winner of the Arizona v. UCLA game.

ASU is likely approaching this game with some caution.  They had to use a second-half rally to beat Arizona last week – and the UCLA win has given the Cats some new momentum.

A hot-shooting Wildcat team (52 percent) stepped out to a 10-point lead at the half of the ASU game, 38-28, and inched the lead up to 11 points as the second half got underway.

ASU was able to offset a foul-plagued performance with ball control.  The Devils had 14 fouls in the first half alone, including four on Michaela Pickens, but had a season-low nine turnovers in the game.

Pickens, the junior guard who is a JUCO transfer from California, was one of just two players that finished in double digits for the Devils; she collected 10 points to go with 12 from her back court partner, senior Kimberly Brandon.

When the two teams meet again this afternoon at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, the Sun Devils should probably be thankful their opponent is one they know so well – and have the confidence that comes with having beat the Cats 12 out of their last 13 match-ups.

The other option would have been UCLA.  The Bruins beat ASU both times they played this season.

On the downside, another win against Arizona will likely lead to a meeting with No. 1-seed Stanford tomorrow.  The Cardinal, which are also the No. 2 team in the country, should win today’s game with No. 8 Washington.

Stanford beat the Devils in their only meeting this season, 62-49.

But it could be worse if Arizona wins today.  Stanford beat the Cats by 40 points.

Either way, the end of the road appears to be rising up in front of both Arizona teams – which makes the game today even more important for each.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)