TEMPE — No. 9 Arizona was looking to bounce back from a tough loss to Stanford on Monday that clinched the Pac-12 title for the Cardinal when it traveled up the interstate to play archrival ASU here on Sunday.
The Wildcats were also looking for four straight wins over the Sun Devils dating to the 2018-19 season.
That didn’t happen as Arizona struggled to find any consistent offensive threat outside of star guard Aari McDonald, who had 30 points for the game.
Instead, the Wildcats lost a 66-64 overtime nail-biter that came down to the game’s final play with junior forward Cate Reese missing the game-tying attempt.
Arizona came into Sunday’s game short-handed as key role player Helena Pueyo missed the game due to an undisclosed injury.
With Pueyo out, coach Adia Barnes gave Phoenix product Madi Conner some time on the court, and in five minutes of action, she wasn’t able to find an open look and didn’t get to take a shot.
With her team struggling to find any offense, McDonald was spectacular, tying her season-high in points on 10-for-19 shooting while going 2-for-5 from behind the arc. She also collected four rebounds and one assist in 43 minutes.
Taking away McDonald, the rest of Arizona’s team went 13-for-39 shooting, an underwhelming 33 percent and had just five players score throughout a 45-minute game.
The only other Arizona player in double figures was guard Bendu Yeaney who dropped 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting while going 2-for-2 from deep. She had four rebounds and two steals in 40 minutes.
The offense wasn’t the only issue for Arizona. Defensively, the Wildcats struggled to limit hot-shooting ASU at the 3-point line, as the Sun Devils shot 56 percent, the highest percentage the Wildcats have given up all season.
Guard Taya Hanson led the way for the Sun Devils with her 19 points, going 7-for-13 from the field. Hanson hurt the Wildcats the most from the 3-point line going 5-for-7. She hit the game-winning bucket from deep.
Here’s Yeaney talking about what happened on the last two possessions of the game and discussing what this loss does for the team moving forward as they head into the Pac-12 tournament (which starts Wednesday with Arizona’s first game against an undetermined opponent on Thursday):
Arizona struggled to spread the floor against ASU, making it easy for the Sun Devils to clog to the middle and mess up the Wildcats’ offensive rhythm.
This isn’t a new issue for Arizona. The team has struggled to shoot the ball over the last three games, going 61-for-170, a horrific 35 percent.
On the game’s final play, the Sun Devils forced Arizona to beat them with someone other than McDonald and once again clogged the lane, giving no room for her to drive to the basket.
The lack of execution brought forward these questions: Why did Barnes go with two post players on the final play knowing her team hasn’t had any luck spacing the floor? Why not play Conner on the final play giving the team another shooter on the floor to force ASU to extend its defense?
Although Conner didn’t take a shot during the game, in high school she was a career 45 percent shooter from the field and shot 39 percent from beyond the arc.
Here’s Barnes talking about the final two possessions of the game and discussing why Conner wasn’t on the floor during the final possession of the game:
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer Troy Hutchison hails from Tucson and is a lifelong Arizona Wildcats follower. He has been involved in sports journalism over the last two years while taking communications courses at Pima Community College.