Arizona Women's Basketball

No. 10 Arizona stifles Utah’s potent offense in 76-64 victory

A strong defense is better than a potent offense.

That much was determined at McKale Center in Arizona’s 76-64 victory Friday over Utah with Adia Barnes’ trademark “Arizona Defense” too much for Utah’s high-scoring offense.

It was not a total shutdown. Things got restless for the Wildcats in the fourth quarter.

The Utes made a third-quarter push — rallying from 20 points down similar to how Oregon made a 17-point comeback against Arizona last week — to make things interesting going into the fourth quarter.

The 10th-ranked Wildcats (13-2, 3-2 Pac-12) answered the charge this time, scoring 10 unanswered points after Utah cut the lead to 56-50 with 7:40 left.

“Coming out of the locker room at halftime, we knew it was something we had to work on having a big lead and then get punched in the mouth and let them get a lead on us,” Lauren Ware said. “I think we were prepared for what they (Utah) were going to throw at us. We did a good job of getting stops and being composed.”

Arizona entered the game as one of the top defensive teams in the Pac-12 statistically against the Utes, the league’s top offensive team.

Utah led the Pac-12 in scoring (84.7 points a game), field goal percentage (46.7) and assists per game (18.7) coming into the game.

The Utes (9-5, 0-2 Pac-12) fell below those marks against Arizona’s pressure in scoring and assists (13) but they awoke in the second half (making 52 percent of their shots) to shoot 46.8 percent from the field in the game.

Utah finished with 22 turnovers, one less than its season-high at Oklahoma, and Arizona compiled 11 steals, led by five from Helena Pueyo.

“Utah is very talented offensively; it was the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12,” Adia Barnes said. “I thought we did a really good job.”

Arizona established control in the second quarter outscoring Utah 26-9 to take a 41-26 halftime lead.

The Wildcats’ fullcourt pressure defense, with a new wrinkle that Barnes called the Diamond Press, wreaked havoc on Utah’s execution.

The Utes committed 10 turnovers in the second quarter and Koi Love, the player defending the inbound pass for the press, scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting on breaks off the press that got the 7,099 fans at McKale on their feet.

Pueyo recorded five steals in the quarter as a second-line defender behind Love, and she had three assists feeding Love for the baskets.

“If we didn’t have the Diamond Press tonight, we probably don’t win the game,” Barnes said. “It’s something we’ve been working on and didn’t show it until today. It was very effective. I think we got nine points off of it.”

Sam Thomas’ offense in the first half was a good balance to the Wildcats’ stringent defense. She matched her season high with 14 points in the first half, including a 4-of-5 performance from 3-point range.

Thomas finished with 25 points and tied her career high of six 3-pointers. She shot 7-of-11 from the field, 6-of-9 from beyond the arc. Only Cate Reese shot the ball more with 12 attempts en route to 14 points.

“My family, the fans, the coaches, my teammates, everybody in the world, always wants me to shoot more,” Thomas said, who was averaging 6.3 field goal attempts a game entering Friday. “That’s been a constant thing in my whole time here. Some times I do shoot a little bit more.

“I am trying to shoot more this season. I know we’re trying to get everyone to contribute as much as possible. Hope We want all five starters and the sixth man average double figures.”

Lauren Ware, in her first appearance at McKale Center since Dec. 9 because of a knee injury, had seven points and seven rebounds.

Ware’s defense also played a significant part in Arizona’s execution helping shut down Utah 6-foot-4 freshman post player Peyton McFarland, who had 10 points in the first half but only took one shot in the second half to finish with 12 points.

Ware also had two blocked shots and her rebounding was especially important because Utah won that statistical category by a 34-24 margin.

“It was the rotation (of defenders); as you saw, a lot of them were wide-open shots from our trap,” Ware said of McFarland’s early scoring. “That’s something we need to work more on is our trapping. If we get more pressure on the ball and our traps are better and tighter, they’re not going to have those open looks.

“We did better on that controlling and getting rotation on the backside so she wasn’t getting those open shots.”

A great example of that was Bendu Yeaney blocking consecutive shots attempted by McFarland in one sequence, which also ignited the crowd.

No. 22 Colorado comes to Tucson on Sunday for noon tip. The Buffaloes were upset by Arizona State 57-52 in overtime.

Barnes said she is hopeful of having at least 10,000 fans in McKale Center for that game.

Three games in five days follow — at UCLA on Wednesday, then at Cal on Friday and at Stanford on next Sunday.

Oregon then comes to Tucson on Feb. 4 for the rematch game after the Ducks’ win last week that included Barnes criticizing the officiating and getting into an alleged spat with Oregon coach Kelly Graves afterward.

“When there’s 10,000 people, it’s a lot easier to win a game, especially the second game of a weekend” Barnes said. “So, yeah, if we can get 10,000 people, it helps us win. It gives us that extra energy.

“It’s hard to play here. People don’t want to play here. … We need to take care of home court. We need fans. We need to pack this place.”

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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.

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