Thursday’s victory over the Oregon Ducks was the second time this season that the University of Arizona women’s basketball has beaten a top-10 team.
But this one was extra special.
For the first time in program history, ESPN was on hand to cover a regular-season game of Arizona’s women’s team. And the Cats took full advantage of their access to a national audience.
Their 57-41 prime-time romp over the No. 10-ranked Ducks showed that maybe the Wildcats will be included more often in the ESPN line-up. After two decades of struggling to return the program to the heights experienced under hall of fame coach Joan Bonvicini, fifth-year head coach Adia Barnes has the Wildcats back in the national rankings following a couple of 20-win seasons.
Despite the fact that Thursday’s game in McKale Center was a contest between two closely-ranked teams (UA is No. 11), the game wasn’t that close. Arizona took an early lead and held it the rest of the way, scoring 17 of the first 19 points, and, at one point late in the game, leading by as many as 23 points.
The score was 36-22 at the half, and the closest Oregon got the rest of the way was 11 points.
This is just the second loss for Arizona, which fell to No. 1 Stanford and lost to Washington State by a buzzer-beater shot in overtime. That loss to the Cougars dropped the Wildcats from its national ranking at No. 7 to No. 11.
That heart-breaker in Pullman came just four days before the Cats faced off against Oregon, showing the focus and resilience this team will need going through the postseason.
The Cats’ defense against the Ducks (9-3, 73)was a major key to that victory, holding the Ducks to 32.6 percent shooting from the field and 27 percent from behind the arc. Arizona’s unrelenting pressure enabled them to collect 24 points off turnovers.
Offensively, Arizona (9-2, 7-2) had three players score in double digits, led by Aari McDonald‘s 16 points. Trinity Baptiste added 14 points and Sam Thomas finished with 10 points.
The win snapped a 10-game losing streak in the annual series against Oregon.
It also marked the 77th game that McDonald, who had considered leaving to enter the WNBA draft, has scored in double figures, which is the longest active streak in the NCAA. Her decision to return for her senior season may prove to be the catalyst for the Cats going deep into the playoffs this season.
ESPN assigned its top national broadcast crew of Rebecca Lobo, Ryan Ruocco, and Holly Rowe to cover this game.
After this visit to Tucson, there should be a good chance the trio will be returning in the near future.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)