Trinity Baptiste has the experience of playing against perennial ACC power Louisville the last three years with Virginia Tech, so she was prepared for what she called a “dog fight” against No. 9 UCLA on Friday night.
“That’s what I love. Growing up playing street ball, I’m all for it,” Baptiste said. “I live to play games like that.”
Baptiste, a 6-foot forward who was the ACC’s Sixth Player of the Year last season, led the Wildcats with 18 points and 11 rebounds in their 68-65 win over the Bruins in front of no fans at McKale Center in this COVID-19 era of college basketball.
The Wildcats (2-0) won the first game in program history when both teams were ranked in the top 10. They have won back-to-back games against UCLA (1-1) for the first time since 2005 and are 3-1 in the last four games against top 10 teams.
Adia Barnes, in her fifth season as head coach, saw the evolution of her program in this game. The Wildcats weathered an 11-point deficit to their nemesis in the first half and held back rallies after leading by eight points on two occasions in the fourth quarter.
“We’re not a team that will ever give up,” Barnes said. “We’re going to play hard until the very end for 40 minutes or how ever long it takes.”
UCLA had the opportunity to tie the game but Charisma Osborne‘s 3-pointer with 5 seconds left was short and the Bruins couldn’t take another shot. Shortly thereafter, Baptiste was banging the drum as Arizona’s player of the game after she bumped bodies in the paint and produced two blocked shots and altered many more.
“We had to show that we wanted it more,” Baptiste said. “We had to defend and actually get stops.”
Facing a spirited Arizona defense led by Baptiste and Aari McDonald, coming out of halftime, when the Wildcats trailed 38-32, the Bruins reached 20 straight misses from the field going from the third quarter to the fourth.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) December 5, 2020
UCLA still managed to tie the game at 48 with 7:38 left in regulation.
Bendu Yeaney, an Indiana transfer who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, responded with jumper and a 3-pointer and McDonald nailed a 3-pointer to put Arizona ahead 56-48 with 5:31 remaining.
McDonald finished with 17 points, five assists and two steals.
UCLA closed the lead to 58-56 before McDonald’s putback with 2:24 left. The Bruins turned the ball over leading to two free throws by Baptiste with 1:38 remaining.
The lead increased to 64-56 following a jumper and 3-pointer shot by Baptiste. UCLA was forced to call a timeout with 57 seconds left.
“(Baptiste) is really strong, probably one of the strongest post players I’ve played with,” said McDonald, who as a freshman at Washington played with All-American center Chantel Osahor. “She does a good job for her size. You can tell she is dominant and that she wants the ball. She’s going to deliver it to you if you call for it.
“I’m really glad I get to play with her this year. She’s been a big, big help.”
The Bruins went on an 8-2 run to cut the lead to 67-65 with 12 seconds left capped by Osborne’s 3-pointer. Osborne finished with 15 points but struggled from the floor, shooting 6 of 21.
Cate Reese, beset by four fouls, made one of two free throws a second later after she was fouled after the inbounds pass.
“We just made some really big plays and Trinity brings us a physical play at the post,” Barnes. “She is strong. She is aggressive. She is experienced. We’re much better on the boards this year with her.”
Arizona’s defense stifled UCLA from the start of the third quarter. The Bruins made only one of their first 17 shots from the field in the quarter as the Wildcats rallied from a six-point halftime deficit to take a 46-43 lead with 2:28 left in the third quarter.
A 7-0 run by the Wildcats was capped by Helena Pueyo’s 3-pointer and Sam Thomas’ jump shot. Pueyo’s shot gave Arizona its first lead since the Wildcats were ahead 10-7 with 2:44 left in the first quarter.
UCLA closed the third quarter missing its last 16 shots.
Arizona went on a 9-1 run to lead 48-44 going into the fourth quarter.
UCLA led by as many as 11 points in the first half with Arizona having trouble shooting and taking care of the ball.
When the Bruins led 27-16 with 5:32 left in the half, the Wildcats had six turnovers and were shooting about 27 percent from the field including an 0-of-7 mark from 3-point range.
Arizona showed signs of awakening with a 5-for-7 stretch from the field with five different players scoring to cut the lead to 31-25.
Baptiste completed a stellar half with a 3-pointer with 6 seconds left before the halftime buzzer. She had 11 points and seven rebounds at that point.
She provided Arizona an answer to the presence of Onyenwere in the lane. Onyenwere had seven points and seven rebounds at the half for the Bruins, who gained separation by shooting 61.8 percent from the field in the second quarter.
Arizona next hosts USC at 1 p.m. Sunday.
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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.