As determined as Cate Reese’s look when challenged in the paint, No. 21 Arizona took care of business at Pullman, Wash., tonight against Washington State with a 74-67 win.
The gauntlet against top 10-ranked teams UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon was done and the three-game losing streak is over. Playing the turnover-prone Cougars (9-8, 2-3 Pac-12) is what Adia Barnes and the Wildcats (14-3, 3-3) needed to get their confidence back, especially winning on the road. The Cougars had 22 turnovers that resulted in 23 points for Arizona.
Reese’s career-high 26 points, including an 11-of-11 performance from the free throw line were important for Arizona. Aari McDonald added 19 points and eight rebounds. McDonald made all six of her free throws. Arizona was 21 of 22 from the line.
The Wildcats can now think of another successful run after beating the Cougars. Arizona next plays Sunday at Washington, where Barnes served as an assistant for five seasons before returning to her alma mater to be head coach in 2016-17. The Wildcats will go after their first road sweep of the Washington schools since the 2010-11 season.
“We found ways (to win), but they outhustled us on 50-50 balls. Usually, they don’t,” Barnes said in her radio postgame show on KTUC 1400-AM. “That was because we were gassed a little but we still found a way. We were great on the free throw line.
“We’re finding different ways to win. Right now to be 3-3 is good and now we have a good opportunity on Sunday.”
The Wildcats were up by 18 points on Washington State early in the fourth quarter only to see the Cougars cut the lead to 70-65 with 39 seconds left. Two free throws by Sam Thomas and two more by McDonald helped the Wildcats pull away in the end.
Over the last five games, Arizona is 60 of 64 (93.8 percent) from the free throw line. The Wildcats did not make a field goal in the last 8:43 of the game but the free throw shooting kept them in position for the win.
Arizona opened the second half on a 9-0 run to build a 44-32 lead with 7:17 left in the third quarter. The Wildcats gained separation thanks to Reese’s 10 points in the third quarter.
Washington State was led by Chanelle Molina’s 19 points but Barnes was pleased it took her 15 field goal attempts to get that many. Molina had 12 points in the second half and Borislava Hristova had seven of her 14 points in the fourth quarter to fuel the comeback attempt.
“They spread you out really well and they had some phenomenal backdoor passes,” Barnes said. “That’s an area we have to get better at. We just couldn’t stay on the ball tonight for some reason.”
The Wildcats managed a 35-32 lead in the first half despite allowing Washington State to shoot 54.2 percent from the field and control the boards, outrebounding Arizona 18-11.
What kept the Cougars down were their 10 turnovers in the first half that led 10 points for the Wildcats.
After getting pounded on the boards against Oregon on Sunday, Arizona continued to struggle in that category against the Cougars. Washington State led 20-10 in points in the paint at halftime and Arizona had only three second-chance points.
Reese, who has six double-doubles this season and 13 in her career, led the Wildcats with 12 points at halftime but she had only one rebound. Reese finished with only two rebounds. She had only three Sunday in the loss to Oregon.
“Two rebounds is a bad thing … all the posts,” Barnes said when asked if forcing turnovers made up for Washington State’s 31-24 rebounding edge. “We force turnovers all the time but we have to work on rebounding.”
Klay was impressed pic.twitter.com/EkeEsVC3cV
Barnes was also critical of Arizona allowing Washington State to shoot 56 percent from the field. Entering the game, the Wildcats ranked fifth nationally limiting opponents to 32.7 percent from the field.
“This is the first time we’ve given up 56 percent from the field; that’s not good,” Barnes said. “We can’t allow a team to shoot 41 percent from the 3 and shoot 56 percent from the field.”
Freshman guard Helena Pueyo returned after missing most of last week’s game against Oregon State and all of the Oregon game because of a right ankle sprain. She played nine minutes and scored two points.
Dominique McBryde made her first start since suffering a foot injury Dec. 2. She was out until last weekend’s games. She had five points and no rebounds in 29 minutes.
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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.