Arizona will try to earn a spot in the Pac-12 tournament championship game for the first time in 17 years when the 11th-ranked Wildcats face No. 9 UCLA in the semifinal round Friday at 9 p.m. at the Mandalay Bay Events Center at Las Vegas.
UCLA, seeded No. 3 in the tournament, held off No. 11-seed Washington 58-46 on Thursday night after No. 2-seed Arizona dominated Washington State 60-44 in the previous quarterfinal game.
UCLA was led by Charisma Osborne and Michaela Onyenwere against Washington. Each scored 12 points.
The Wildcats (16-4) beat UCLA (15-4) 68-65 at McKale Center on Dec. 4 in the teams’ only meeting of the regular season.
Arizona turned a 38-32 halftime deficit into a 48-44 lead going into the fourth quarter and held off a rally in the final minute to beat the Bruins.
UCLA led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter but fell cold in the third quarter, making just one field goal in 18 attempts. Arizona outscored the Bruins 16-6 in the quarter.
Trinity Baptiste had a game-high 18 points with 11 rebounds. Aari McDonald totaled 17 points and five assists.
Osborne had 15 points and Onyenwere achieved a double-double with 13 points and 16 rebounds. Lauryn Miller had 14 points.
UCLA coach Cori Close has long shown her admiration of Adia Barnes, especially when the Wildcats rallied to win six consecutive games to capture the 2019 WNIT title.
“What a great program that Adia’s had, but we can say that about every program in the Pac-12,” Close told the Pac-12 Network after the win over Washington. “That’s what’s so fun about coaching in this league. It brings out the best in me and the players.
“It’s going to be a very uptempo game, pressure defense. We’re going to have to be stronger with our minds and our hearts. We’re going to have to really play purposely to our strengths. We’re going to have to relieve pressure in different ways but I’m excited for the challenge.”
From the ACC to the Pac-12. Baptiste, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, almost a year ago to the day suffered an upset loss in a first-round game of the ACC tournament against Wake Forest at Greensboro, N.C.
She had 10 points for her 13th double-digit scoring game of the season in the Hokies’ last game because of COVID-19 shutting down the NCAA tournament.
This time around she was a winner with Arizona in Las Vegas and she was a significant reason why with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting with six rebounds and a career-high six steals.
“For me, there’s not much of a difference,” Baptiste said when asked her first Pac-12 tournament experience. “I have experience. I’ve been in the (ACC and WNIT) tournament. I know it’s a different game come March.
“Everybody’s gonna bring their best game and everybody’s 0-0. It doesn’t matter what seed you are. I understand that when March comes, everybody’s gonna bring their best game and I just want to win. I told Coach, ‘I don’t want to go home.'”
Baptiste said her six steals were a byproduct of studying game film extensively.
“I watched a lot of film with coaches,” she said, “and I was out of position a lot when we trap. When we when we trap on ball screens, I was out of position a lot on the next man over.
“I made sure I watched a lot of film and I made adjustments to make sure that I’m in the passing lane more and I’m denying the next pass so it’s not an easy skip to the corner for three. It was just a lot of film that I watched and I just made an adjustment and make sure that I was ready to go.”
Mad about Madison. Arizona freshman guard Madison Conner, who only two months ago was playing for AZ Compass Prep in Chandler, made her first shot as an Arizona player when she drained a 3-pointer with 6:37 remaining.
— Arizona Women’s Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) February 26, 2021
Getting acclimated to Barnes’ system translates into Conner taking only one shot previously. She is now 1 of 3 in four games with a total of 20 minutes played.
“If you would have seen Maddie in practice the last couple days, she was just doing that,” Barnes said about the made 3-pointer of which Conner showed a perfect shooting form and release. “I mean, killing it the last couple of days. She’s still learning our system. She’s still has a ways to go but she wants it.
“She’s hungry. She puts in the work. She’s a gym rat.”
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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.