Arizona Women's Basketball

No. 11 Arizona powers past Oregon State behind Pueyo’s shooting performance


Helena Pueyo was a non-factor in Adia Barnes’ rotation recently when it came to her perimeter shooting strength before she launched 3-pointer after 3-pointer against Oregon State in the first half on Sunday in a 67-51 victory at McKale Center.

Pueyo’s 4-of-4 performance from beyond the arc off the bench in the first half ignited the Wildcats, who appeared listless in an empty McKale, trailing 8-0 less than 4 minutes into the game.

The immediate thought was the Wildcats suffering from a hangover after Thursday’s convincing win over Oregon on ESPN. Ironically, it was one of the more softspoken players, Pueyo, who woke up the team.

The 6-foot guard from Palma de Mallorca, Spain, who is trying to master her English, tied a career-high with her four 3-pointers, finishing 4 of 5 beyond the arc. She also tied her career-best scoring total with 15 points, all in the first half.

“(Barnes) told me to be ready to shoot today,” Pueyo said. “I was just ready to shoot the ball, and that’s what I did, I think.”

She then laughed as she tried to communicate to reporters. She came through on that just like she did for Arizona in the game.

“I’m feeling good about the season, and I’m trying to do my best as a shooter, too,” she said.

Arizona (10-2, 8-2 Pac-12) gained a game in the Pac-12 standings on top-ranked Stanford, which was upset 77-72 in overtime today by Colorado in Boulder, Colo.

The sweep over the the Oregon schools at McKale Center is the first time Arizona has achieved that feat against the Ducks and Beavers since the 2010-11 season.

The Cardinal is 11-1 overall and 8-1 in the Pac-12 with an anticipated game against visiting UCLA (8-2, 6-2) on Friday. The Wildcats will remain at McKale with a scheduled game with Utah on Friday at 4 p.m. They host the Buffaloes next Sunday.

Helena Pueyo was the bang-the-drum player of the game (Arizona Athletics photo)

“It’s always difficult to play in Colorado; I’m glad we’re done with that trip,” Barnes said. “There’s a couple of places I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go to the Mountain schools (Utah and Colorado). It’s hard to play up there, especially the second game. It’s really hard to play up there.

“And I don’t want to go back to Washington. Pullman (where Washington State is located) is a very tough place. It’s a difficult trip. It’s cold. We’re in the desert. We’re in the sun.”

Pueyo heated up when Arizona needed her the most against the Beavers (3-4, 1-4) — who had not played since Dec. 19 because six games were postponed due to COVID-19 ravaging the program.

Pueyo tied her career-record of making four 3-pointers, most recently at Washington State last season. Her previous record high of 15 points was also last season against Monmouth.

Aari McDonald increased her streak of double-digit scoring games to 78, encompassing her entire Arizona career since 2018-19, with 20 points. McDonald also finished with seven rebounds and four assists.

Aleah Goodman’s 3-pointer with 6:13 left in the first quarter increased Oregon State’s lead to 11-2, the Beavers’ largest lead in the game.

The Wildcats went on a 13-2 run that included two 3-pointers by Pueyo that enabled Arizona to take a 19-15 lead with 54 seconds left in the quarter.

Pueyo’s fourth 3-pointer came with 1:52 left in the first half, increasing Arizona’s lead to 36-25. She matched her previous career highs in points and made 3-pointers by halftime, when Arizona led 40-26.

Arizona improved to 10-2 on the season (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“Pueyo is an amazing player and she needs to shoot the ball more,” freshman center Lauren Ware said. “All of us, we’re going to give her the ball. When she shoots it and she misses we’re not going to get mad. We’re just going to tell her to keep shooting because she’s an amazing player.”

In the previous four games, Pueyo had only six points on 2-of-7 shooting from the field, including 1 of 5 from 3-point range.

A consistent 3-point shooting threat is what Barnes and Arizona needs to loosen up the lane for McDonald and the Wildcats’ guards to penetrate and for frontcourt players Cate Reese and Trinity Baptiste to have more room to operate near the basket.

Coming into Sunday’s game Arizona was shooting only 28.5 percent from beyond the arc in conference games. McDonald and Sam Thomas made the most 3-pointers, combining for 28 in conference games, but they made only 30.1 percent of their attempts.

Sparked by Pueyo’s performance, Arizona made 10 of 19 from beyond the arc against Oregon State.

“It is a needed element,” Barnes said of Pueyo’s 3-point shooting, “but we need her to be aggressive. She’s not going to go 0-for-10 ever. She’s a great shooter.

“She’s not only a great shooter, she’s a great passer. She’s good off the dribble, but her hitting shots opens up the other stuff. We need that because we may have lineups that are solid defensively but we don’t have the scoring.”

After Arizona led by as many as 20 points in the second half, Oregon State cut the margin to 61-50 with 3:35 remaining in the game.

The Beavers, who had 19 turnovers and made 18 of 49 shots from the field (36.7 percent), could not cut the lead to single digits.

Arizona has caused opponents to have more turnovers than field goals made in five games this season, all at McKale Center. Their last three opponents there — Cal, Oregon and Oregon State — have succumbed to those numbers because of Arizona’s fullcourt pressure defense.

In last week’s overtime loss at Washington State, the Cougars had only 11 turnovers and made 27 shots.

“That’s Arizona Defense, (Barnes) says that all the time,” Ware said with a laugh about another suffocating performance at McKale. “Arizona Defense — she harps that on us. … Our defense and our pressure has just been amazing. That’s what has made these games so difficult for other teams. Our defense has carried us through these past couple of games.”

Ware led the Wildcats with three blocked shots, matching her career high.

Thomas started for the 110th time her career, tying Barnes and Lisa Griffith for No. 4 in Arizona history. Davellyn Whyte holds the record with 126 starts.

Thomas finished with a blocked shot and two steals to lead the Wildcats’ defense. Arizona totaled 12 steals as a team. Five players had at least two steals — Thomas, Reese, Shaina Pellington, Ware and Pueyo.

Thomas had eight points while making both of her 3-point attempts.

NOTES:

— Arizona freshman guard Madi Conner, who recently played at AZ Compass Prep, was at McKale Center after joining the Wildcats on Friday. She did not suit up. Barnes thanked former Sabino coaches Jaamal Rhodes and Jeremy Daniels, now coaching at AZ Compass, for allowing Conner to leave their team midseason and join Arizona. Barnes’ comment about Conner: “She’s a shooter. She’s smart. She’s competitive. She’s feisty. She’s tough. She just came from high school so she has to learn the system. I wanted her to get the experience. It isn’t about her being on the floor right away. It’s about her going against some really good players in practice every day, learning our system. It’s a free year for her.” Conner’s eligibility timetable does not start until next season per the NCAA because of the impact COVID-19 has made on games this season. Barnes added that Conner, a sharp-shooting guard, will start practicing with the team Tuesday and she should be uniform Friday against Utah. She added that Conner may get playing opportunities as time goes on after she adapts to the system.

— Reserve post player Semaj Smith did not play because of concussion protocol. Her status for next weekend’s games is to be determined.


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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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