After Adia Barnes looked like she pulled a fast one on Oregon State, Shaina Pellington pulled off the winning shot.
Pellington’s jumper at the free throw line with 0.5 seconds left gave Arizona a 55-53 victory at Corvallis, Ore., on Thursday night.
The Wildcats (12-1, 2-1 Pac-12) scored the last six points of the game in the final 2:15 to emerge victorious over an Oregon State team that had not played since Dec. 19 because of COVID-19 protocol impacting five of its games.
In a surprise move, Barnes started Pellington and Lauren Ware after announcing during Wednesday’s press conference that they would not play after both have missed games recently.
Pellington, who finished with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting, did not play against Washington State last week and at USC on Sunday for an undisclosed reason, and Ware has been out since Dec. 9 after dislocating her left knee.
When asked when she made the decision to play Ware and Pellington, Barnes said, “I made that decision today at shootaround. At shootaround, I limited both of them because I wanted to make sure I was making a decision that’s going to set them up for success.”
Ware’s ability to run well on her knee in the last week aided Barnes’ decision to give her the green light.
“I’m really concerned about her long-term health and us being healthy in a month or two months from now,” Barnes said. “She looks good. We agreed on limiting her minutes like just in spurts and I thought she handled it really well. She was definitely prepared and ready.”
Pellington said she was not cleared to play until Wednesday when Arizona traveled to Corvallis.
“I knew I was going to be traveling with the team,” she said. “My mindset coming into this game was just that I put the work in, I had a couple practices before we traveled here, so my objective was trying to be available to help my team the best way I can.”
Meanwhile, Oregon State’s second-leading scorer and rebounder Taylor Jones (12.4 points and 6.9 rebounds a game) did not play for an undisclosed reason.
Arizona’s added depth and Pellington’s quickness at the point gradually was difficult for Oregon State to handle.
Pellington and Ware were rusty early and Pellington especially came on stronger.
Ware had two points on 1-of-5 shooting from the field and one rebound in 26 minutes.
Pellington, who had two fouls in the first half and sat for 12 minutes, scored eight points in the third quarter to lead an Arizona surge.
The Wildcats, rebounding after Sunday’s loss in a lackluster performance at USC, built a 45-39 lead with 1:00 left in the third quarter after Oregon State led 27-25 at halftime.
The Beavers’ Kennedy Brown, who leads the Pac-12 with 8.7 rebounds a game, drew her fourth foul in the third quarter. She finished with only five points and two rebounds in 20 minutes.
Oregon State went on a 7-0 run, taking advantage of Arizona’s cold shooting (1 of 7 from the field in the stretch) to take a 53-49 lead with 2:57 left.
Bendu Yeaney, a Portland, Ore., native who scored a season-high 15 points, tied the game at 53 with a strong baseline move with 1:15 left.
After Oregon State (7-4, 0-1) committed a shot-clock violation with 26.5 seconds left, Arizona had possession with the shot clock off.
Pellington dribbled the ball close to the top of the key and stepped up and nailed a jumper at the free-throw line without a hand in her face. Greta Kampschroeder, a forward, was a step slow in guarding her.
“It was just a high-ball screen that was something that was working for both me and Bendu throughout the entire course of the game,” Pellington said. “We tried to have a one-on-one coverage with their post player in the middle of the key.
“We had a lot of success doing that. That was the play call — middle ball screen before five seconds and then attack and get whatever shot up I could.”
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After the refs determined the shot was made with 0.5 seconds left following an Oregon State timeout, the Beavers’ attempt to inbound the ball was thwarted when Sam Thomas slapped the ball away as the buzzer sounded.
Pellington also made a game-winner against Vanderbilt on Nov. 25 in the Paradise Jam at the Bahamas.
Barnes said having Ware and Pellington back in the lineup is “extremely important” as the Wildcats are near the midway point of the season.
“It is extremely important because of our defensive identity, the chemistry of that group has — think about it, those are the returners from last year that went to the (NCAA) championship,” Barnes said. “They know our system, and they know what we do and how we do with the rotation. A lot of the other players, they are new to it, and they’re still learning.”
Cate Reese again had a solid performance after leading the Wildcats in scoring against Washington State (20 points) and USC (29 points). She finished with 12 points and six rebounds against the Beavers.
Helena Pueyo finished with four steals and Reese added three steals.
Thomas finished with nine rebounds and Ariyah Copeland added six to help Arizona win the rebounding battle 29-28, significant inasmuch as Oregon State was fourth in the nation and first in the Pac-12 in rebounding margin at 13.9 per
Arizona is next scheduled to play at Oregon, which has become a competitive rival of the Wildcats, on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Yeaney said she had a party of 25 family members and friends at Oregon State. She expects close to 50 to be in attendance at Eugene, Ore.
She mentioned her strong performance playing at home is “important because this is the first time I played at Oregon State since I’ve been in college.”
“In high school, I used to play here all the time. I just love this gym. I love being back at home and having my family see me play, It was a good win for us. I think it was more about bouncing back from USC. That’s what I was focusing on.”
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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.