This postseason has not been kind to the women’s basketball teams in Arizona. More to the point, the conference tournaments have left a wasteland of Arizona’s college teams, long before the winners were crowned.
The University of Arizona came the closest to a conference title. The Wildcats advanced to the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament before being sent home via a 77-63 loss to No. 6 Oregon.
And this was the program that hasn’t made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the last 14 years. The Wildcats made it into the second round of the Big Dance back in 2005.
This time, Oregon was better than the Cats in several key categories, shooting 53 percent to Arizona’s 44 percent and out-rebounding the Wildcats, 37-20. Aari McDonald‘s 34 points wasn’t enough to carry her team into the next round, but it did set a new UofA school record since the redshirt sophomore from California posted her eighth 30-point game this season, the best single-season performance in the history of the program.
While the Wildcats fell short of their goal to earn an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tournament, they made it closer to that goal than any of the other three college programs. None of those teams got past the quarterfinals of their respective tournaments.
Pac-12 rival Arizona State University rolled over Colorado, 66-49, in the opener, but found No. 25 UCLA too much to handle in the second round, falling to the Bruins, 73-69. A barrage of turnovers, 17 for the game and seven in the final quarter, kept the N0. 20-ranked Sun Devils (20-10) from advancing any farther.
“We’re very disappointed,” said head coach Charli Turner Thorne after the game. “We’re not a team that turns the ball over, which is very uncharacteristic of us today. And we’re not a team that fouls, so we were just not the disciplined team that we normally are.” UCLA went to the free-throw line 27 times, collecting 21 points off charity shots.
Courtney Ekmark, the redshirt senior from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, topped the Devils’ scoring with 18 points.
Northern Arizona University also managed just a single win and Grand Canyon University fell in its first game. After beating Sacramento State in the opening game of the Big Sky Conference Tournament, NAU was bumped from the tourney after a 90-73 loss to the regular-season champion, Idaho. GCU exited the Western Athletic Conference Tournament after a first-round loss to CSU Bakersfield, 73-59.
NAU (13-18) led by one point, 21-20, after the first quarter, but Idaho took over after that and built a 27-point lead in the second half, too much for the Lumberjacks to overcome. Freshman guard Regan Schenck led a young Lumberjack team in scoring with 24 points, and added 12 rebounds for her first double-double of the season. Four ‘Jacks scored in double figures.
“It’s sad when the season comes to an end, especially because we were just getting our momentum going,” said head coach Loree Payne. “But we finished the season very strong.” NAU won seven of its last 11 games and wrapped up the regular-season schedule with three straight Ws.
Conversely, GCU won just two of its last nine games going into the tournament, finishing its season with a 7-20 record that included five conference victories.
“Even though the results don’t show that, we know the transformation that is happening in our program this year,” explains head coach Nicole Powell, who just completed her second season directing the program. “We’re in a long-term build.”
The ‘Lopes took a run at third-seeded CSU in this year’s WAC tourney, but couldn’t maintain a lead it established early, and the Roadrunners used an explosive third quarter to pull away for good.
Freshman guard Venla Varis, an import from Finland, led the GCU scoring with 14 points, but there wasn’t enough offense to avoid a third loss to the Roadrunners this season – all by double digits.
From here, there will likely be just one of the four teams continuing play. ASU, which set a school record with a sixth straight 20-win season, will have to wait until next Monday, when the NCAA brackets are unveiled, to find out where they will be headed for their next game.
At least they have a next game. That takes some of the sting out of a disappointing conference run.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)