Arizona Women's Basketball

TCU a Tall Task for Arizona Wildcats in WNIT Semifinal at McKale

In order for the Arizona Wildcats to live on to the championship in this WNIT joy ride, they must climb the mountain that is TCU first.

The Horned Frogs’ starting lineup includes four players who are at least 6-foot-2, including a talented senior frontcourt tandem of Amy Okonkwo — formerly of USC — and Jordan Moore.

Arizona (22-13) counters with 6-3 freshman Cate Reese and 6-2 junior Dominique McBryde as starters who are not as physically imposing as Okonkwo and Moore when the Wildcats tip off against TCU (24-10) in the WNIT Final Four game at McKale Center on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

TCU’s Jayde Woods (15) matching up with Arizona’s Sam Thomas last season when the Horned Frogs beat the Wildcats in Northridge, Calilf., during a holiday tournament (TCU photo)

Expect Arizona coach Adia Barnes to utilize reserve frontcourt players Destiny Graham (a 6-3 senior) and Samaj Smith (a 6-5 freshman) to help combat the Horned Frogs’ size.

When TCU stunned Arkansas 82-78 last week in a WNIT third round game in front of 5,287 at Bud Walton Arena at Fayetteville, Ark., Okonkwo (6-2) had a career-high 36 points and 14 rebounds. TCU outrebounded Arkansas 45-34 and had 16 offensive boards that led to 15 second-chance points.

“I know they’re physical,” Barnes said Sunday about TCU after the Wildcats eliminated perimeter-oriented Wyoming 67-45 at McKale Center.

“I know they’re well-coached. We played them last year in a tournament (at Northridge, Calif.) but we’re much different than we were last year. They have a good, versatile post player (Okwonko). They play a physical style, so I think it will be a really good game.”

Okwonko had 12 points on 6 of 9 shooting off the bench in a 68-59 win over Arizona on Nov. 24, 2017.

When she was a freshman in 2014-15 at USC, she had 11 points (5 of 6 shooting) and six rebounds as a reserve in the Trojans’ 77-51 rout of Arizona in Los Angeles.

Arizona is in a different world from last season (6-24 record) and four years ago (11-19). Okwonko will likely be formidable but she will not have it as easy against the Wildcats, who have won their most games in a season since Joan Bonvicini’s 2003-04 team had 24 wins.

Okwonko, averaging 25 points and 11.7 rebounds in the WNIT, has also not stepped foot into a McKale Center that will possibly have more than 10,000 fans for a women’s game for the first time in Arizona history.

TOP 10 WNIT CROWDS THIS POSTSEASON

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The attendance record for a women’s game at McKale Center is 8,442 accomplished against North Texas on Nov. 22, 2016. That was a school-day ticket-giveaway event in which local students attended during the weekday.

Arizona’s honorable-mention All-American point guard Aari McDonald, whose quickness will be difficult for taller TCU to handle, told the McKale crowd after the win over Wyoming that “we need 10,000” fans for the game against the Horned Frogs.

“It’s doable,” McDonald said matter-of-factly. “We saw a lot of red and heard a lot of chants (against Wyoming). It was like, ‘Okay, this is big.’ … It’s a big boost because when we’re in the long stretches of not scoring, or we’re just constantly having to play defense, when the crowd cheers, it gives us a boost of confidence. That is really helpful.”

McDonald is within reach to become only the third Pac-12 player to reach 900 points in a season. She is at 852, which is a program record.

Pac-12 women season scoring leaders

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Barnes will likely count on McDonald’s penetrating ability to draw TCU’s size into the lane for the opportunity to get the Horned Frogs in foul trouble or to kick it out to perimeter shooters like Tee Tee Starks and Sam Thomas.

McDonald’s aggressive style can also open up the interior for Reese and McBryde by drawing their defenders while she goes to the hoop.

It should be a classic size (TCU) vs. speed (Arizona) affair.

TCU lists a three-guard starting lineup that includes 6-1 juniors Jayde Woods (formerly of Oregon) and Kianna Ray. Woods had 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in TCU’s win over Arizona last season.

Moore and Okonkwo posted double-double performances in a 69-55 win over visiting Cincinnati on Sunday. Okonkwo had 20 points and 13 rebounds. Moore, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds, is on pace to break the TCU single-season and career records for field-goal percentage (59.3 percent this season and 54.8 percent for her career).

“This is a team that going into the postseason could have pouted and could have got in their feelings, and instead they really locked into each other,” said TCU head coach Raegan Pebley, whose team went 10-8 in the Big 12. “These seniors have led us with a focused sense of urgency and you can’t get this far without that.”

The Horned Frogs are looking to tie the school record for wins in a season and reach the 25-win mark for just the third time in program history. It previously won 25 games in both 2001-02 and 2003-04.

Neither TCU or Arizona have played a game in April until now.

THIS AND THAT: Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke told Wildcat Sports Radio (1290-AM) on Tuesday that the Wildcats will put in a bid to host the WNIT title game Saturday at noon (Tucson time) if they get past TCU. Northwestern plays at James Madison in the other WNIT Final Four game Wednesday. The largest crowd to watch a game at James Madison in the WNIT was 2,872 in a third round victory over Virginia Tech last week. Northwestern’s biggest draw was only 1,031 in the win over Ohio last Saturday in a quarterfinal game. … Arizona freshman forward Cate Reese is the first Wildcat freshman to score 20 points in a postseason game and is also the first freshman since Shawntinice Polk to have a double-double in her first career postseason game. She is shooting 61 percent from the field and averaging almost 16 points per game in her last six games. … TCU has four players from California, including former Pac-12 players Amy Okwonko (USC) and Jayde Woods (Oregon). The primary reason for the West coast influence is the Fresno State coaching background of TCU coach Raegan Pebley. … Arizona sophomore Aari McDonald and former UConn All-American Maya Moore as the only two players since 1999-2000 to have 800 points, 200 rebounds and 150 assists in one season. … The Horned Frogs are making their seventh WNIT appearance and fifth in the last six seasons. At 13-6 in the WNIT, they are looking to advance to the finals for the first time in program history.

2019 WNIT RESULTS AND SCHEDULES

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Arizona’s Quad

FIRST ROUND

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SECOND ROUND

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THIRD ROUND

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QUARTERFINAL

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Quad 2

FIRST ROUND

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SECOND ROUND

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THIRD ROUND
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QUARTERFINAL
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SEMIFINAL

Wednesday

TCU at Arizona, 6:30 p.m.

Quad 3
Opposite of Arizona

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SECOND ROUND

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THIRD ROUND
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QUARTERFINAL

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Quad 4
Opposite of Arizona

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SECOND ROUND

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THIRD ROUND

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QUARTERFINAL

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SEMIFINAL

Wednesday

Northwestern at James Madison, 4 p.m.


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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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