Arizona not only faces one of the toughest road trips in the Pac-12 this season but it must do so against Colorado and Utah teams that can only focus their practices and scout sessions on the Wildcats without spending time on Arizona State.
The Sun Devils were forced to forfeit both games — Friday at Utah and Sunday at Colorado — because of a lack of eligible players due to a rash of injuries.
A Colorado team that should be ranked at 13-3 overall and 4-1 in the Pac-12 was going to prepare only for Arizona (14-2, 4-1) to this point anyway because it’s the first game of the weekend.
Colorado coach JR Payne said this week, however, she is “glad we didn’t spend all week preparing for Arizona State.”
“Every game is important and you feel like you just have to win every game at this point of the season,” she is quoted as saying in the school’s Web site. “I’m glad we didn’t spend all week preparing for Arizona State and then find out the game was canceled.
“We’ve been preparing for Arizona, knowing that we play them Friday night. We’re glad that’s not the game that is being canceled. We feel like our scout and team are locked in and we’re excited for the game.”
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) January 12, 2023
Colorado is listed in the “others receiving votes” category of the AP Top 25 coming off its best win of the season, upsetting No. 8 Utah 77-67 last Friday.
The Buffaloes have shown improvement under Payne, who led her team to an upset of Arizona in the second round of last season’s Pac-12 Tournament.
For the first time, Arizona will go against former reserve post player Aaronette Vonleh, one of three players from last year’s team who is with Pac-12 schools — Bendu Yeaney at Oregon State and Koi Love at USC are the others.
Vonleh, a sophomore from West Linn, Ore., has scored 10 or more points in 11 consecutive games and is third on the team averaging 11.5 points and 3.8 rebounds. She is shooting 60.6 percent from the field and averaging 24.2 minutes a game while starting 12 of Colorado’s 13 games.
— Colorado Women's Basketball 🦬 (@CUBuffsWBB) January 2, 2023
Last season in 17 games with the Wildcats, she averaged 4.1 points and 1.6 rebounds in 6.9 minutes per game while shooting an efficient 61.5 percent.
“It’ll be a little weird because I was just there last season,” Vonleh said in Colorado’s site. “I’m excited to just see them again and hopefully beat them.”
“I think she’s exactly where we were hoping she would be,” Payne commented. “She’s a huge contributing factor for us offensively. Defensively, she’s growing before our eyes. I keep saying she’s finally starting to see herself the way we see her, which is someone that can have a huge impact on every game.”
Colorado owns the 18-9 series advantage against Arizona, but the Wildcats have gotten the upper hand of late. Arizona has won five of the last seven meetings dating back to the 2017-18 season. The Buffaloes have held Arizona to under 45 points in each of its last two wins. Colorado won 50-38 win in February of 2020 and 45-43 last season in the Pac-12 tournament at Las Vegas.
“I think we are two similar teams,” Payne added. “We’re similar in whom we want to be and what we are about. We both have lost and added significant pieces as far as who is contributing and who is impacting outcomes. They’re great defensively. They rebound tenaciously. They really make you work for your points. I think it will be a defensive battle.”
– Arizona’s 14-2 start marks the third-straight season in which the Wildcats have opened with that record.
– The Wildcats lead the Pac-12 and ranks seventh in the nation in steals per game (12.8).
– Arizona is the lone team in the Pac-12 with four players averaging at least 11.4 points per game — Shaina Pellington (12.9), Jade Loville (11.9), Cate Reese (11.8) and Esmery Martinez (11.4).
– Arizona is undefeated when it shoots 40 percent or better in games. Arizona is also 12-0 when scoring more points in the paint that their opponents.
– Martinez is fourth in the conference in rebounds per game at 8.7.
– Helena Pueyo is first in the Pac-12 in steals per game with 2.7. She is one of four Pac-12 players averaging at least 7 points per game and shooting 59 percent or better from the field.
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) January 9, 2023
– Madison Conner’s 44.4 percent shooting from 3-point range ranks fifth in the Pac-12. Her free throw percentage of 94.1 percent is 24th nationally. She leads the Pac-12 in conference games in 3-point percentage at 75. In 16 minutes off the bench against Oregon, she made all three of her 3-point attempts and all seven of her free-throw tries to finish with 16 points. Eleven of her 16 points came in the third quarter.
“I think what she did was more impressive because she was cold and having to come in and just produce and hit your shots right away,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said about Conner coming off the bench. “That’s hard to do. It’s hard to come in from the bench and hit a 3. It usually takes time to get into it. I think she did a really good job of staying focused.”
– Arizona turned Oregon over 20 times, forcing the Ducks to tie their most turnovers in a single game this season in Sunday’s 79-71 win for the Wildcats. Barnes’ team has forced 20 or more turnovers in 10 games this season.
– Five Wildcats scored in double digits against Oregon, marking the third time this season that at least five members of the squad have had ten or more points. Every Wildcat who played against Oregon scored at least five points.
– Arizona’s bench outscored Oregon 26-3, the 10th game this season in which the Cats have held the edge in points off the bench.
– Pellington had six assists while not committing a turnover against Oregon. She tied her season high number of rebounds with six and totaled 14 points. Arizona is 10-0 in games when she scores 10 or more points points.
– Loville produced her 11th game of the season in double digits with 13 points.
– Martinez tallied up six rebounds, five of which were offensive. She made five shots to total 11 points.
– Reese scored 10 points for her 13th game in double digits. She had four rebounds and made two assists and two steals.
– Arizona continues its lead in Pac-12 attendance for the first time this late into the season after last weekend’s games against the Oregon schools at McKale. The Wildcats are averaging 7,352 fans through their first nine home games with six remaining. The updated list:
2022-23 PAC-12 WOMEN'S BASKETBALL ATTENDANCESOURCE: PAC-12
Through games of January 20, 2023
– A win on Friday would be the first time Colorado would have back-to-back wins against ranked opponents since beating No. 21 Wyoming and No. 20 Vanderbilt in the 2007-08 season.
– Colorado is 7-0 at home this season and has won 10 straight at the CU Events Center dating to last season.
— Similar to Montaya Dew early graduating from Las Vegas Centennial High School and joining the Wildcats in late December, guard Mikayla Johnson of Anchorage, Alaska, has joined the Colorado program as an early enrollee.
– Senior Quay Miller, who was the Pac-12’s Sixth Player of the Year, is leading Colorado this season with 14.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
– Jaylyn Sherrod is second in the Pac-12 with 37 steals and 2.3 per game. She is a major reason why Colorado has forced 20 or more turnovers in six games this season.
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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.