No. 15 Arizona took care of Cal State Northridge (CSUN) 87-44 Tuesday night in front of 6,154 fans and that number included a very special guest in All-American Aari McDonald. The Wildcat fans were already visibly enjoying another huge win in person but the appearance of McDonald on the large screen above the court, combined with the announcement that McDonald will be included in the McKale Memorial Center Ring of Honor, sent the crowd to a boisterous standing ovation.
McDonald’s appearance seemingly made time stand still for a brief moment as the current group of Wildcats diverted their attention away from head coach Adia Barnes during a team huddle at mid court towards the direction of McDonald sitting court side before returning to listen to their game instructions. From one bright star to another, only McDonald and Barnes could command that sort of attention from fellow athletes. Sam Thomas will join that elite group soon. Count on it.
No one in the history of Arizona Women’s Basketball has played more minutes (4,248) in a Wildcat uniform than Thomas and, come Friday against Louisville, her jersey will be in the center circle for the opening tip-off more than anyone else before her as the all-time start leader at 127 games. A super-senior with a spot reserved for her on the Naismith Award watch list, Thomas made two straight 3-pointers to help break the game open early and one had a feeling the crowd was forever on her side after the second one found nothing but net.
Thomas finished with 13 points on 5 for 7 shooting that included 3 for 5 from beyond the arc and she did all that in only 18 minutes on the court. The Wildcats led 15-5 after the first quarter and 32-13 at the half so Barnes was once again free to experiment on her playing rotations and one could see her counting on the fingers which players would get in and 15 saw the court with 12 scoring, but all contributed in some positive way.
Senior Cate Reese (6-2) led the team with 14 points as did freshman Aaronette Vonleh (6-3). Senior forward Ariyah Copeland added nine points and sophomore forward Lauren Ware (6-5) had eight. The advantage in the paint was evident early on with Ware picking up her first of a team-leading two blocked shots in the first quarter. The Matadors avoided the paint from there and the team finished with 18 of 48 shooting (.375) while the Wildcats finished 34 of 65 (.523).
LINK: COMPLETE STATS
Jordyn Jackson and Kayanna Spriggs each had nine points for Northridge. This was the first game for the Matadors since March 10, 2020 (Big West Tournament quarterfinals). The Wildcats are now 4-1 all time against CSUN with the one loss coming in 2017. Thomas is the only Arizona player remaining from that loss.
Arizona (1-0) will travel to Sioux Falls, South Dakota on Friday to play Louisville in The Invitational at the Sanford Pentagon. South Carolina will play South Dakota in the other half of the Invitational. This will be the Cardinals first game of the year after beating Union University 106-32 in an exhibition game last Thursday.
Louisville sophomore guard Hailey Van Lith (5-7) is also on the Naismith Watch List along with the preseason All-ACC team and the Nancy Lieberman Award watch list and she is ranked No. 18 on ESPN’s Top 25 Players list. Arizona junior forward Koi Love (6-0) and Reese received votes on the ESPN list.
Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee and he earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater. Contact Andy Morales at firstname.lastname@example.org