Arizona Women's Basketball

“Arizona Defense” again key for No. 10 Wildcats against Utah

The “Arizona Defense,” as Adia Barnes brands it, is what makes the Wildcats the 10th-ranked team in the nation and fuels their hope for a first conference championship in 16 years.

The Wildcats (10-2, 8-2 Pac-12) host Utah (3-8, 2-8) today at 4 p.m. with a dominant defensive streak intact over their last three conference games at McKale Center. The game will be televised live by the Pac-12 Networks (with broadcaster Cindy Brunson and legendary Arizona coach Joan Bonvicini) and will be broadcast live on KTUC (1400-AM) with Arizona grad Derrick Palmer calling the action.

Since losing big to then-No. 1 Stanford at McKale on New Year’s Day, the Wildcats have rung in 2021 much differently against Cal, Oregon and Oregon State at home.

In those games, Arizona has allowed a total of 46 made field goals while forcing 73 turnovers. Cal, Oregon and Oregon State have shot a combined 34.1 percent. In their nine games at McKale, the Wildcats have allowed 174 made field goals while causing the other team to commit 167 turnovers.

Arizona has won eight of its first 10 conference games for the first time since the 2003-04
season (Pac-12 Networks screen shot)

That’s quite a trend in the last three games with Arizona turning up the heat in McKale without fans because of COVID-19.

Arizona is in the top three in the Pac-12 in these defensive stats:

Blocked shots (No. 3) with 59.

Scoring defense (No. 3) allowing 56.7 points per game.

Steals (No. 2) with 115.

Steals per game (No. 3) with an average of 9.6.

Sam Thomas is the driving force behind the “Arizona Defense.” Thomas is the career leader in blocks among all active Pac-12 players with 149 in 110 games. No other Pac-12 player has 100 blocks.

She is the only player in the Pac-12 to average at least 1.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.

Arizona Career Blocked Shot Leaders

1.Shawntinice Polk2003-0594222
2.Ify Ibekwe2008-10116166
3.LaBrittney Jones2013-17114161
4.Sam Thomas2017-20118160
5.Elizabeth Pickney1999-2002121147
6.Marte Alexander1995-98109121
7.Dana Patterson1985-8811291
8.Anne McFadden1979-8210287
9.Margo Clark1991-948468
10.Erica Barnes2011-1411254

Aari McDonald is known for her offensive production, scoring in double figures in 78 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation, but her defense is what fuels her scoring production and that of her teammates. She ranks second in the Pac-12 with 2.5 steals per game. She is seventh nationally among active career steal leaders with 234.

Her 78 straight games in double-figure scoring (which encompasses her entire career) ties Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu for second-most in Pac-12 history, only five behind her former Washington teammate Kelsey Plum.

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McDonald can achieve a significant personal plateau today by reaching 2,000 career points over her Washington and Arizona careers. She is only 17 points away at 1,983.

She ranks No. 4 in Arizona history with 1,710 career points and is first in scoring average at 21.9 points a game, topping her coach, Barnes, who averaged 18.9 points from 1994 to 1998.

Cate Reese is also very close to a personal scoring milestone, only three points shy of her 1,000th career point through 80 games with the Wildcats.

Thomas reached her 1,000th career point at Washington State on Jan. 10.

With a start today, Thomas will be alone at No. 4 in Arizona history with 111 career starts. Elizabeth Pickney is next at 112 with Dee-Dee Wheeler at 118 and Davellyn Whyte topping the list at 126.

Arizona Career Starts Leaders

1.Davellyn Whyte2009-2013126
2.Sam Thomas2017-2021119
3.Dee-Dee Wheeler2001-2005118
4.Elizabeth Pickney1998-2002112
5.Adia Barnes1994-1998110
5.Lisa Griffith1996-2000110


— Arizona won at Utah 77-60 on Dec. 20. McDonald had 19 points, six assists and six steals and Reese and Thomas each added 11 points and two steals. Utah’s Niyah Becker came off the bench to lead the Utes with 13 points. Utah had as many turnovers (22) as made field goals.

— Utah guard Dru Gylten had six points and four assists in the loss to Arizona. Gylten leads the Pac-12 averaging 5.0 assists per game.

— Utah’s underclassmen (three sophomores and four freshmen) have scored 428 of Utah’s 697 points (61 percent). The Utes have size. They average 6-foot-1 in height. Ten of Utah’s 14 players are 6-foot or taller.

— Utah is also a strong team defensively. The Utes rank in the top half of the conference in total steals (sixth, 97) and steals per game (sixth, 8.8). Utah has five games with 10 or more steals this season.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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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