The Arizona Wildcats celebrated the 127th birthday of the game of basketball with a block party Friday night in a swarming defensive performance against Northern Arizona.
Freshman Cate Reese led the way with a career-high four blocks before a crowd that included Dr. James Naismith’s great-granddaughter Margaret Naismith Jonker, as well as UA coaching legend Lute Olson, in a 71-47 rout of the Lumberjacks at McKale Center.
Former Arizona women’s coach Joan Bonvicini and current Tucson mayor Jonathan Rothschild also attended.
“It’s really special,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “I think we’re on the right track and people are excited. We have momentum in the community and that’s what I want, and that was my dream of coming here.”
Arizona closed out its non-conference schedule with the victory and improved to 10-1 — its best start since the 2011-2012 season.
NAU (4-5) went into Friday’s contest on a three-game losing streak in which it averaged 52.3 points and shot 28.3 percent. Arizona held the struggling NAU offense to 31.7 percent shooting, marking the sixth time the Cats have held their opponent under 35 percent this year.
“The most important thing is we know how to win,” Barnes said. “It wasn’t about who we played or playing the right teams or not. It was about us getting better and finding our rhythm and learning and feeling good.”
And Barnes’ stars were certainly feeling good Friday night.
The Lumberjacks couldn’t contain the McDonald’s All-American Reese, who tallied 21 points and eight rebounds, and Dominique McBryde added 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting. Aari McDonald, the nation’s third-leading scorer, put up 20 points and eight rebounds while leading a pesky full-court press to come up with three steals.
“It was really fun,” McDonald said. “Coming in, they were talking smack, so when we were locking them down on the press it just felt good, and that was basically our talking back to them.”
With one win over an in-state school under their belt, the Cats head into Christmas break with another rivalry game looming. Arizona hosts No. 17 Arizona State on Dec. 30 for its biggest test of the season thus far.
“We’re rolling into it with high hopes and huge momentum after this win,” McBryde said. “We’re ready to kick their butt.”