No. 4 Stanford’s balanced scoring, particularly in the paint, was too much for an undersized ninth-ranked Arizona team as the Cardinal clinched the Pac-12 regular-season title with a 62-48 win Monday at Maples Pavilion at Palo Alto, Calif.
Stanford (21-2, 18-2 Pac-12) swept the season series from Arizona, which has lost 18 straight games at Maples. The last win for the Wildcats (15-3, 13-3) there was in the 2000-01 season.
The Cardinal outscored Arizona 24-10 in the paint.
“Stanford’s really good. They’re like an offensive machine. They have size inside and athleticism,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “We have to shoot the ball better, box out and stop their transition. Those were some of the areas we struggled in tonight.”
Lexie Hull (16), Kiana Williams (15), Haley Jones (13),and Cameron Brink (10) combined to score 54 of Stanford’s 62 points. They shot a combined 20 of 45 from the field.
All are taller than 6-foot except Williams. Brink is 6-4 and Hull and Jones are each 6-1. Brink, Hull and Jones combined for 25 rebounds, including nine by Hull, eight by Jones and seven from Brink.
Stanford outrebounded Arizona 39-32 and basically shut off the consistent effective penetration of All-American guard Aari McDonald because of their size clogging the lane.
McDonald started cold missing her first seven shots. She missed all of her six 3-point attempts and finished 8 of 24 from the field. She worked for all of her 20 points with Barnes designing shots off screens and even having the 5-foot-6 guard post up down low against her defender.
Stanford sagged its defense throughout because of a lack of scoring contribution from other Wildcats, except for Sam Thomas in the first half.
“I just kept trying to communicate to my teammates,” McDonald said of trying to work through screens and keeping the offense flowing. “That’s the difference between experienced teams and just okay teams.”
Thomas, a senior, finished with 12 points after making three 3-pointers before halftime.
McDonald, who extended her double-digit scoring streak to 84 games, and Thomas struggled for a combined 11 of 33 shooting performance from the field, but they made five more shots than their teammates combined.
The others were 6 of 22.
Arizona’s guards besides McDonald (Helena Pueyo, Shaina Pellington and Bendu Yeaney) took only seven shots and made one. Pueyo played 30 minutes and did not score while missing three shots, two from 3-point range.
That trio never played in Maples Pavilion before. Arizona did not play at Stanford last season.
Pueyo is a sophomore and Pellington and Yeaney are transfers.
A snapshot of the game: Pueyo passing up an open 3-pointer late with Arizona looking to cut the lead to single-digits. She appeared confused about whether to shoot or pass.
“Helena should be confident; she is one of our best 3-point shooters. She’s shooting over 40 percent from the three,” Barnes said. “I don’t know why there’s hesitation. I thought she was doing really well on the boards (seven). … Sam and Helena have to be aggressive for us to win games.”
McDonald was not altogether pleased with her shooting performance and recognizes the work she must do to make Arizona a threat in the postseason.
“I have high expectations of myself,” said McDonald, who had five rebounds, four assists and three steals. “I’ve got to get back in the gym and keep shooting more. I think I did okay. Going against a tall team, you have to adjust and I think I did that (after the slow start).
“I drew three fouls and my mid-range was working. I tried to do what was working.”
— Arizona Women’s Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) February 23, 2021
After Stanford took a 39-28 lead with 6:41 left in the third quarter, the Cardinal went scoreless for almost four minutes. That was a point Arizona could have capitalized.
A mid-range jumper by Trinity Baptiste cut the lead to 39-32 with 3:14 left in the quarter, but Stanford kept the Wildcats from putting together a sustained run.
The Cardinal pulled away to a 48-36 lead going into the fourth quarter following a 3-pointer by Williams and two free throws by Hull.
Stanford led by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter. Twice thereafter, Arizona cut the lead to 10.
The Wildcats could have cut into that deficit with about 3 minutes remaining but McDonald missed a contested pull-up jumper and her 3-pointer following the offensive rebound was off.
“Stanford plays percentages, they pack the paint, and they force you into your weaknesses,” Barnes said. “I think they made Aari really work to take pull-up jumpers, which is a really hard shot with congestion. It wasn’t easy.
“For us, we needed some others to be able to score. Getting Aari to take 24 shots, it’s hard.”
With a struggle against last-place Cal on Friday before pulling away late for the win and the loss to Stanford, Barnes said she believes the Wildcats are “not where we need to be. We know we’re capable of playing better,”
Barnes mentioned again Arizona is in “uncharted territory” being so close to a Pac-12 title the second-to-last game of the regular season.
Although the Wildcats feel they can play better than what they showed during the Bay area trip, consider:
–The Wildcats, who conclude the regular season at ASU on Sunday, have won seven of their last eight games.
–They finished second in the Pac-12 (an extreme rarity for this program) — in what is one of the best conferences in the nation.
–They were more competitive against a Stanford team (that will likely be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament) than what the Wildcats showed at McKale Center on New Year’s Day when they lost 84-53 to Tara VanDerveer’s team.
“We know we’re capable of doing more and our expectations and standards are high,” Barnes said.
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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.