Arizona Women's Basketball

“Savage” Arizona goes for blood early against WSU in Pac-12 tourney win

That was more like it.

Aari McDonald breaking down the defense and distributing inside for high-percentage shots.

Trinity Baptiste showing the talent that made her the ACC sixth player of the year last season.

Freshman sharpshooter Madi Conner — who was at the prep level in January — adding to the fun by drilling her first made field goal, a 3-pointer, as a player at Arizona.

The “Arizona Defense” living up to its name forcing 26 turnovers with 16 steals that led to 40 points in the paint. Helena Pueyo contributing a season-high five steals. …

So what if 11th-ranked Arizona lost its last two regular-season games.

Trinity Baptiste scored 13 of her 17 points in the first half (Arizona Athletics photo)

“Congratulations to Arizona. I thought they were just savage on us and they smelled blood from the very beginning,” said Washington State coach Kamie Ethridge after her team was knocked out of the Pac-12 tournament by the Wildcats.

Arizona never looked back after taking an 11-0 lead while forcing the Cougars into 11 first-quarter turnovers in their 60-44 win Thursday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center at Las Vegas.

Arizona (16-4) advanced to the Pac-12 tournament semifinals for the second straight season, a feat achieved for the first time since 2004.

The Wildcats will play UCLA on Friday at 9 p.m. in the semifinal matchup. No. 1 seed Stanford will play No. 5 Oregon State in the other semifinal at 6 p.m.

Arizona, seeded No. 2, was looking for scoring help for McDonald, an All-American, after the Wildcats finished the regular season with consecutive losses to Stanford and ASU.

Adia Barnes found that help from Baptiste, a Virginia Tech graduate transfer playing in her first Pac-12 tournament game. Baptiste finished with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field with six rebounds and a career-high six steals.

“I said, ‘What did you eat Trinity?’ She said, ‘Coach, I’m not trying to go home,'” Barnes said. “She was phenomenal. We got on her back and went going. I thought she did everything. Hitting 3’s, rebounding, brought us muscle inside.

“I thought she did a really good job of denying.”

Arizona has not reached the Pac-12 tournament semifinals in consecutive years in 17 years (Arizona Athletics photo)

Before Washington State could make a shot, Baptiste had seven points on 3-of-3 shooting with three rebounds. Arizona led 13-1 at the time with 3:28 left in the first quarter.

With the game in Vegas, wonder what the odds would have been of Baptiste being the leading scorer in the game? She had 11 points combined in the losses to Stanford and ASU while making 5 of 16 shots from the field.

“We know that we haven’t been playing well the last couple games, so I want to start off with that,” Baptiste said when asked about the defensive intensity. “Our leader (McDonald) stepped up this week and in practice Coach was on us harder. We just wanted to come out and win. We don’t want to go home.

“It’s as simple as that.”

Although McDonald extended her double-digit scoring streak to 86 games with 13 points on 6-of-17 shooting from the field, it was her playmaking ability — WNBA general managers must have salivated — that defined her performance this time.

She finished with a season-high nine assists. She had only three turnovers in 31 minutes.

Aari McDonald reached double-digit scoring for the 86th straight game (Arizona Athletics photo)

“I thought she set up her teammates and she called the right things,” Barnes said. “I thought she put people in good situations to score. She had almost a double-double. A month ago, we couldn’t have won if Aari scored only 13 points, but different people stepped up.

“That’s what it is. That’s what it’s about this time of year.”

McDonald had only six points by the start of the fourth quarter after Arizona built a 42-26 lead primarily behind its defense.

The seventh-seeded Cougars (12-11) made 1 of 16 shots from the field in the third quarter after they made four of their last five shots to end the first half to cut Arizona’s lead to 29-21.

Washington State’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Charlisse Leger-Walker, the player who led the Cougars to an upset win in overtime against Arizona in January at Pullman, Wash., was held to 12 points on 2-of-17 shooting from the field.

“They just have great athletes,” Ethridge said. “They can switch a lot of positions on the floor and they can just be ultra aggressive.”

Washington State shot only 26.4 percent from the field in the game, including 5 of 21 from 3-point range. The Cougars’ abundance of turnovers (20 in the first half) led to 23 points for Arizona.

The 16 steals fueled Arizona’s transition game and high-percentage shots in the paint. The Wildcats had 17 fast-break points and outscored Washington State 40-12 in the paint.

Cate Reese had 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field. Fellow post player Lauren Ware, a freshman, made 3 of 4 shots from the field for six points in the fourth quarter.

Both benefited from the team’s steals and the distribution of the ball by McDonald.

“We’re gonna defend so I think for us, hitting the shots, getting the shots that we want … it doesn’t have to be 3’s … getting the shots, how we want them off of our defense, that creates easy scoring opportunities for us,” Barnes said.

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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