Sophomore forward Cate Reese had a productive return to her home state of Texas with 19 points and 17 rebounds to lead No. 20 Arizona to a 54-43 win at UTEP on Saturday, allowing the Wildcats to tie the best start in program history with a 9-0 record.
The 1995-96 and 1999-2000 teams each started 9-0. The Wildcats will attempt to break the record when they host Tennessee State on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Arizona beat UTEP (7-2) despite not making a field goal in the last 8:34 of the game, going 0 of 7 in that stretch.
Arizona coach Adia Barnes said on the KTUC 1400-AM postgame radio show that it was a “war” against the Miners. There were 42 fouls called. Two UTEP players fouled out and three Arizona players finished with four fouls.
“We kept our composure,” Barnes said. “It was a hard game to officiate because both teams are physical. I thought we did a good job adjusting. We were smart.
“If you would have told me that we were going to come out on the road and shoot 7 percent from the 3 and have 23 turnovers, I would have told you we would lose the game. We didn’t play our best game. But to get this road win was a good win for us especially with us being short-handed.”
The performance of Reese, who is from Cypress, Texas, was valuable especially with senior starting forward Dominique McBryde out because of an ankle injury. Sophomore post player Semaj Smith started in McBryde’s place and had four points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes.
Reese made 8 of 13 shots from the field. She was the only Wildcat who shot well as Arizona shot only 38 percent from the field including 1 of 14 from 3-point range.
“(Reese) was doing a real good job of being strong. She was unstoppable,” said Barnes. “For her to be able to assert herself and play strong and control the rebounds almost single-handedly … this was a great game for her.”
Arizona also prevailed despite leading scorer Aari McDonald playing limited minutes (25) because of foul trouble. She finished with 13 points while shooting 4 of 14 from the field. Barnes also did not play freshman guards Helena Pueyo and Mara Mote because of injuries.
Arizona went without a made field goal in the last 8:34 of the game allowing its 47-29 lead at the start of the fourth quarter to dwindle to as low as nine points late in the game.
Arizona outrebounded UTEP 45-39 which helped lead to 28 points in the paint.
Sam Thomas contributed 12 points and six rebounds for the Wildcats, who are on a 15-game winning streak overall dating to last year’s six-game run to the WNIT title.
“We’re a good team. We’ve done a good job,” Barnes said. “It wasn’t perfect but we found a way. Down Dominique is a lot and then today we didn’t play Helena. We didn’t play Mara. We could have but we didn’t.
“For us to battle and get a win … last year we wouldn’t have been able to do this. We’re capable. We know what we are capable of doing. This is a good (UTEP) team that’s going to win a lot of ball games. This was a good win for us.”
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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.