No. 14 Arizona is playing two games of a tough road trip in less than 48 hours of each other for the second time in three weeks, while No. 10 Utah has prepared for only two games in the last two weeks.
Arizona (14-3, 4-2 Pac-12) split its road trip at California and Stanford two weeks ago, beating the Golden Bears at 8 p.m. (Tucson time) on New Year’s Eve and then losing at the Cardinal’s Maples Pavilion two days later at 12:30 p.m.
The Wildcats lost at Colorado 72-65 at 7 p.m. (Tucson time) on Friday and now they play at Utah (15-1, 4-1) at noon on Sunday at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.
Barnes was critical of her team’s play in the loss against the Buffaloes, including their free-throw shooting (10-for-20), toughness and sense of urgency. She made the comment that her starting lineup may be altered because of Arizona falling behind 18-8 going into the second quarter.
“We can’t start games slow like this so that just tells me it’s a problem with our lineup,” she said during the KTUC 1400-AM postgame show. “We don’t have the right combinations. It’s not working.”
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Barnes has started Shaina Pellington at point guard, Lauren Fields at shooting guard, Jade Loville at the wing, Esmery Martinez at power forward and Cate Reese at the post 13 of their 17 games and the record is 10-3 in those games.
Potential new starters could be Helena Pueyo and/or Madison Conner at the guard positions. Both have proven valuable coming off the bench this season. Pueyo leads the Pac-12 and ranks 24th nationally with 2.8 steals per game. Conner has scored in double figures in three of her last four games.
Freshman Kailyn Gilbert, who is averaging 6.3 points in 12.9 minutes a game, could also see more minutes. Over a 40-minute span (the time of a game), she is scoring at a rate of 19.5 points per game. She is also shooting 72.7 percent (16 of 22) at the free-throw line.
Pellington has struggled at the free-throw line throughout her career, and her position as a point guard includes penetrating the lane and drawing fouls. She is shooting 55.7 percent (39 of 70) at the line this season after going 0 of 4 on Friday. In her career, she is making 58.5 percent of her free throws (293 of 501).
The flipside to all of this: Pellington is a valuable fifth-year senior whose presence is needed on the court. When she fouled out with 2:10 left against Colorado, Arizona proceeded to go 0-for-4 from the field with a turnover to close out the game.
At least the Wildcats had little time to sulk and overthink things before preparing for the Utah game in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
“We have to forget about it,” Barnes said. “If we sulk on it, we’re not going to win Sunday. We have to get better.
“We’ll try to find a way to rest and recover a little bit and come back with a new focus that we didn’t have tonight.”
Utah scouted and prepared for only Colorado last week and lost its first game of the season, 77-67 at Boulder, Colo. The Utes again had only one team to concern itself with after Arizona State forfeited its game Friday due to a lack of healthy scholarship players.
Sunday’s game between the Wildcats and Utes is one of the top games of the Pac-12 season matching teams that have been ranked over the last nine weeks of the regular season.
– The Wildcats lead the Pac-12 and rank fifth in the nation in steals per game (12.8).
– Arizona is the lone team in the Pac-12 with four players averaging at least 11.2 points per game — Pellington (12.8), Reese (11.9), Loville (11.8) and Martinez (11.2).
– Martinez is fifth in the conference in rebounds per gameat 8.5.
– Conner’s free throw percentage of 94.7 ranks 18th nationally.
– Arizona forced 19 Colorado turnovers for its 13th game of of the season forcing at least that many.
– Reese did her part against Colorado, totaling 14 points and nine rebounds.
– This week marks the Utes’ ninth consecutive week ranked in the AP poll, matching the program’s record (Jan. 15, 2001 to March 12, 2001). Utah’s most total weeks ranked in the same season is 13 in 2005-06.
– Utah came into the weekend as the nation’s No. 4 scoring team (87.3 points per game), one of four major statistical categories in which the Utes boast a top-4 ranking: second in field-goal percentage (50.2); third in scoring margin (plus-27.9) and fourth in scoring (87.3) and assists (19.5).
– The Utes also have four players averaging in double-figure scoring: USC transfer Alissa Pili (19.3), Gianna Kneepkens (14.1), Jenna Johnson (11.9) and Kennady McQueen (10.9).
– Pili was recently named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 Watch List. She ranks 10th in the nation (first in the Pac-12) in field-goal percentage (62.8). She recently eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in her career.
– Kneepkens ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 and fourth in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (48.0),
– Sophomore Ines Vieira ranks first in the Pac-12 and sixth in the nation in assist-turnover ratio (2.86),
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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.