Arizona’s adverse conditions on the road this weekend going against two of the best teams in Pac-12, Colorado and No. 10 Utah, included playing at a higher altitude within 37 hours of each game and dealing with referee calls and slow game-clock management in Sunday’s 80-79 loss at Salt Lake City.
Questionable call after questionable call occurred in the last 3 minutes, ultimately ending with the biggest doozy — Esmery Martinez whistled for what appeared to be a clean block of Allison Pili as time expired.
The referees video-reviewed if Pili made the attempt before 1.6 seconds elapsed from the time she received the inbound pass to when the foul on Martinez was called.
Pili caught the ball facing away from the basket, dribbled once and then turned toward where Martinez and Helena Pueyo were standing near the block on the key. Pili tried to avoid contact and Martinez swatted the ball cleanly but a foul was called. It was Martinez’s fifth foul.
The refs put 0.3 seconds back on the clock, and Pili, a USC transfer who finished with 27 points, made both free throws.
Jade Loville could not get a shot off as time expired.
“That’s a tough call,” Barnes said in the postgame interview on KTUC 1400-AM. “I have to look at the film but I don’t think (the block) could’ve been cleaner.
“I thought that was a good play. To lose in that manner is very upsetting. I think our girls played hard. They played with heart. They did everything I asked them today.”
Barnes mentioned she knew Utah, which inbounded the ball from near its bench, would try to lob the ball close to the basket with only 1.6 seconds left.
“That was a tough foul call,” she continued. “I did not see a foul. I need to review it. But to call that at this point of the game, I think is very tough to decide it at the free-throw line. I don’t know. That could’ve been a foul. This is a good (officiating) crew but I didn’t see a foul. I saw a clean block.”
The late-game play of Arizona freshman guard Paris Clark really should be the focus in the aftermath of this game, but a blown call after the late start of the game clock from when Pili caught the ball is overshadowing her performance.
Clark grabbed a rebound following the second of consecutive missed free throws by Martinez with 8 seconds left and banked in a jumper to cut Utah’s lead to 78-77.
She then stole Utah’s inbound pass and made a shot in the lane to put Arizona ahead 79-78 with 1.6 seconds remaining.
That’s when Utah called a timeout and the madness with Pili followed.
“I thought Paris was incredible off the bench; gave us some great minutes,” said Barnes of Clark, who had eight points and five rebounds in 12 minutes.
Clark’s lengthy playing time was in contrast of Madison Conner playing only the last 22.8 seconds even though Conner scored in double-figures in three of the four previous games, including 16 points in a win over Oregon last week.
Shaina Pellington was called for three fouls in a 22-second span early in the fourth quarter and was forced to sit with four fouls with the game tied at 58 with 7:56 left.
She was inserted with 3:28 left but then fouled out with 2:49 left on a questionable offensive foul call while extending her arm slightly while dribbling before passing the ball. She didn’t gain an advantage over the defender with the minimal contact, but the foul was still called.
Cate Reese, who led Arizona (14-4, 4-3 Pac-12) with 25 points and 10 rebounds, fouled out after being whistled for two fouls in the last 2:39 of the game when she made minimal or no contact defending near the basket.
“Us having Esmery in foul trouble, Shaina in foul trouble and Cate in foul trouble was detrimental,” Barnes said. “We have to play smarter on the road but they did everything I asked. They played a good game.”
Pili finished with four fouls as did Gianna Kneepkens, who had 20 points and seven rebounds. Jenna Johnson (eight points, six rebounds and four assists) was the lone Utah player to foul out.
Arizona and Utah (15-1, 5-1) started hot from the field in the first half with the defenses of both teams unable to stop the execution.
Utah led 42-40 at halftime shooting 51.6 percent from the field, led by Pili’s 7-of-7 performance from the field.
Pili finished 11 of 16 from the field to lead the Utes’ shooting performance of 53.6 percent from the field.
The Wildcats, criticized by Barnes for trailing 18-8 after the first quarter at Colorado on Friday, scored the first seven points of the game against Utah.
They shot 58.1 percent from the field in the first half with four starters scoring at least seven points — Reese with 10 followed by eight from Pellington and seven each from Martinez and Loville.
Arizona shot 52.4 percent from the field and produced 16 assists.
Loville finished with 17 points and Pellington and Martinez each had 10. Pellington produced a career-high five steals. Lauren Fields had a team-best four assists
Barnes mentioned after Friday’s loss at Colorado, that changes to the lineup might be made to generate a more fluid and aggressive start. She stuck with the same starters she has used for 14 times with Pellington, Fields, Loville, Martinez and Reese.
“We played a lot better today,” Barnes said. “I thought we executed our offense better. I thought we shared the ball better. I thought we did things to put us in a position to win.
“(Utah is) a good team. They run a good offense, and they’re really hard to guard. I’m proud of the way we fought.”
Arizona has a scheduled game at Arizona State next Sunday at 3 p.m. The Sun Devils were forced to forfeit games against Utah and Colorado this weekend because of a lack of healthy scholarship players.
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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.