No fan atmosphere in McKale Center for a top-10 matchup on Friday meant no boost of energy for No. 6 Arizona when it needed it the most — many times — during its monumental task of trying to challenge top-ranked Stanford.
McKale was empty of fans because of COVID-19 restrictions and beating a No. 1-ranked team remains a void for the Wildcats (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12).
Arizona’s program is now 0-6 against top-ranked teams in the AP Top 25 poll following the 81-54 loss to the Cardinal (8-0, 5-0).
“We got punched in the mouth, and then we got slapped up and down the floor,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said.
All-American guard Aari McDonald was a non-factor, held to only 12 points on 3-of-18 shooting from the field, including 1 of 6 from 3-point range.
It was the Wildcats’ first game against a No. 1 team since the 2006-07 season when former Arizona player Brenda Frese coached Maryland to a 75-61 win over her alma mater at College Park, Md.
“I’m sure that a lot of people on the team have not had the chance to play the No. 1 team in the country, so I think it was a big learning experience for us just knowing what we have to work on,” said Sam Thomas, who scored a season-high 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting from 3-point range.
Bendu Yeaney, a guard who transferred from Indiana, said that Arizona’s main objective is for players at all positions to work on boxing out around the basket, something Barnes talked in length about with the media after the game.
Stanford outrebounded Arizona 29-13 in the first half and the Cardinal blocked six shots to the Wildcats’ one when they took a commanding 44-20 halftime lead. The Cardinal finished with a rebounding edge of 51-32 and tallied nine blocks and seven steals.
“They got too many offensive rebounds and that led to layups fouls or even three pointers,” Yeaney said. “So that’s something that we really need to focus on in practice going forward.”
Stanford was too much for Arizona from the start with its talent, length and depth. On top of all that, the Cardinal have Hall of Famer Tara VanDerveer, the career leader in victories among women’s basketball coaches with 1,102.
Stanford, with six players at least at 6-foot-1, including 6-4 freshman Cameron Brink as the top reserve, controlled the paint and the game since midway through the first quarter.
Arizona Against No. 1-ranked OpponentsArizona is 0-6 against teams ranked No. 1 in the nation. Here are the results:
Arizona trailed big at halftime after shooting 18.8 percent (6 of 32) from the field.
Stanford had runs of 15-2 to close out the first quarter and 16-3 to finish the second quarter to establish control and quash any chance for momentum for Barnes’ team.
“We don’t have the most athletic posts. We don’t have the biggest posts. We’re always going to be undersized and not as strong inside because of our personnel,” Barnes said. “So that means you have to take more pride in boxing out. And we knew that was a key coming into the game. That was a big key … and we didn’t execute that area and we didn’t win the game. So that was one of the differences in the game.”
Brink, a McDonald’s All-American and member of the USA U17 National Team in 2018 and 2019, had six points, five rebounds and three blocked shots by halftime. She finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and five blocks.
Francesca Belibi, Stanford’s starting 6-1 post player, finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Arizona’s starting 6-2 post player Cate Reese, who has 16 career double-doubles, was limited to three points while attempting only four shots and finished with five rebounds.
“(The loss) is not something for us to hang our heads,” Barnes said. “But I think this is something that we probably needed. I think it shows where we’re at and what we have to work on because we’re not good enough to just walk into the gym and assume a win.”
Stanford All-American Haley Jones, a 6-1 guard who is one of the top inside-outside threats in the nation, led Stanford in the first half with 10 points (all in the second quarter). She finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Lexie Hull, a 6-foot guard, had 13 points and four rebounds.
Anna Wilson and Hull played stellar defense on McDonald (who got off to a cold start, shooting 2 of 12 from the field in the first half). Wilson scored all nine of her points before halftime, making all three of her 3-point attempts while pulling down eight rebounds.[table “101” not found /]
“They’re really tall, they got good size in there and they were all sagging in the paint, obviously, because they didn’t want Aari to drive or anybody else,” Thomas said. “I think (Stanford’s length) was hard to go against. They were baiting us into taking certain type of shots and stuff. It was difficult, but we just got to learn to do better.”
McDonald’s 12 points brought her closer to the No. 4 spot in Arizona’s career scoring chart. She has 1,639 points. Ify Ibekwe is at No. 4 with 1,653 points from 2007-11.
McDonald increased her double-digit scoring streak to 74 games, which includes her entire Arizona career. She also had five assists and a steal.
Arizona closed the lead to 20 points on four occasions in the second half and could not get closer until McDonald made two free throws with 5:46 left in the fourth quarter to trim the lead to 66-48. The Wildcats would not score again for more than 4 minutes.
The scene at McKale was much different than only about 10 months ago, on the last day of February, when Arizona upset the fourth-ranked Cardinal in overtime in front of 7,838 fans for its first win over a top 5 team in program history.
McDonald had the winning shot in the game and scored 20 points, getting to the foul line seven times (making six). She was 5 of 8 from the line on Friday against the Cardinal but her shot from the perimeter and her playmaking ability in the lane was totally shut down.
When asked what the biggest difference between last February and now, other than the obvious with the fans not at McKale, Barnes mentioned that Stanford is “a lot better than last year” and her team had a “bad day.”
“They didn’t have Haley Jones (who was out with an injury),” Barnes added. “I think they are deeper with a solid seven-player rotation. For us at home, our defense ignites our offense and we weren’t able to get stops.
“Without the crowd, it is harder because with a team like this, we would have sold out. We would have had 15,000 people, no doubt in my mind. That really ignites us because when you’re rallying and you’re down by 10 points I think the crowd really ignites us and rallies us to get back.”
Thomas continued her progression after a slow start to her senior season. She also had a blocked shot to increase her career total to 147, tying Elizabeth Pickney (1998-2002) for No. 4 on the Arizona record list.
Yeaney added 10 points. Freshman Lauren Ware had five points on 1-of-6 shooting with six rebounds.
Arizona is next scheduled to play Cal at noon on Sunday at McKale Center. The Golden Bears upset Arizona last March at McKale two days after the Wildcats beat the Cardinal.
Stanford travels to Tempe on Sunday to face ASU at 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.