Arizona did not think it would have to rely on a 3-pointer late by Sam Thomas against last-place Washington in a Pac-12 game Friday night.
But this was a night either team would take what they could get.
Thomas’ 3-pointer with 1:04 left answered an 8-0 run by Washington and enabled the Wildcats to thwart the Huskies’ upset bid. The eight points the Huskies scored in less than 2 minutes were more than they scored in the entire first half.
Arizona’s 51-42 win at Seattle was certainly not pretty but the victory improves Arizona to 19-4 overall and 9-4 in the Pac-12.
Shaina Pellington was Arizona’s lone scorer in double figures — she had only 10 points — and Arizona still won.
“We came out of here with a win; not our best game of the season, but definitely some positives from it,” said Adia Barnes, who talked to her team a lengthy period of time after the game. “Holding them down to seven points in the first half, I thought was big. But I think that we had to come out with more fire regardless of who we play. That is really important moving forward.”
Barnes improved her record to 3-1 in her fourth return to Seattle after she was an assistant coach with the Huskies from 2011-16.
She spent 14 years in Seattle playing for the Storm of the WNBA and serving as a radio broadcaster for that team almost 10 years before working as an assistant coach at Washington for five seasons.
Barnes and assistant Salvo Coppa got married in Seattle and their son Matteo was born there.
“We drove by the hospital (where Matteo was born) and where we used to live,” Barnes said. “That’s where everything kind of happened. … We got engaged here. We got married on Lake Union.
“Our first little small intimate wedding was on a boat in front of Gasworks Park on the Fourth of July with Sue Bird and people like Celeste (Keaton) and Lisa (Brummel) — they’re owners of the Storm. So many amazing memories here. I love this place.”
The sparse crowd of 1,499 at Alaska Airlines Arena is not like the 5,000 to 6,000 she rememebered when Washington was competitive with Kelsey Plum leading into a Final Four run in 2016.
Lute Olson used to say it was difficult for his team to get going at venues without a lot of fans after playing in a packed McKale Center.
Barnes does not believe the lackluster crowd affected Arizona’s performance.
“At McKale we have 7,000 but that was not the reason why we had no energy,” she said. “I would like to lie to you and say our flatness is because there was not a lot of crowd. That’s not the reason. Our flatness was because of us. We look inwards, always.”
Washington (5-14, 0-11) did not crack double-figure scoring until 5:57 was left in the third quarter when 6-foot-9 post player Nancy Mulkey made a 3-pointer to cut Arizona’s lead to 24-12.
Washington shot 35.7 percent from the field and committed 22 turnovers in the game.
Arizona’s offensive execution was also lacking with the Wildcats shooting 37.3 percent, including 2 of 13 from beyond the arc. The Wildcats settled down with only two of their 12 turnovers in the second half.
Gisela Sanchez provided a lift off the bench with eight points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field with five rebounds in 17 minutes.
“She’s like a little energy booster for us,” Thomas said. “She’s out there. She’s not afraid to take those shots, not afraid to lock up the defenders. And she’s also a more versatile post for us. She can guard the guards, guard the post, so she really did great for us.
“We’re lucky to have her this game or else I don’t know how it would have turned out. She really gave us that spark that we needed.”
Arizona led 16-7 at halftime, a record low for a half by a Pac-12 opponent. The previous low was 10 points, which happened twice, most recently by Cal on Jan. 3, 2021, in a 69-33 win for the Wildcats at McKale Center.
An 8-0 run for the Wildcats increased the lead against Washington to 24-9 with 6:16 left in the third quarter.
Arizona maintained a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter after Madison Conner made a layup with 15 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 31-19.
Mulkey had five points, including her second 3-pointer of the game, in Washington’s 8-0 run that cut Arizona’s lead to 41-37 with 1:36 left.
Thomas responded with her 3-pointer with 1:04 remaining. She finished with six points, two assists and two steals.
“We were talking as a team, figuring things out, because we want to win out the rest of these games,” Thomas said of the extended time in the locker room after the game. “We were just focusing on what we can do to help make sure that happens.”
Both teams traded two free throws before Missy Peterson hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 46-42 with 36 seconds left.
Cate Reese, Thomas and Pellington each made one of two free throw attempts to put Arizona ahead 49-42 with 26 seconds on the clock.
Pellington then made two free throws with 12 seconds left after a missed jumper by Jayda Noble.
“Our defense was really good to start the game and our defense made a lot of offense for us,” Barnes said. “I just thought we didn’t do a good job when we turned them over, we couldn’t convert. I think just finding a way to finish the easy shots like getting to the rim and and going up soft, or not finishing something easy, making your free throws — those are the little things that are separators.
“If we finished layups, make our free throws and not give up 3’s, it’s a totally different game.”
Mulkey and Reese were teammates at Cypress (Texas) Woods High School. Mulkey was a senior and Reese a sophomore in 2015-16.
Mulkey, a transfer from Rice in her fifth year of eligibility, finished with 13 points and five rebounds. Reese had six points and six rebounds.
Arizona next plays at Washington State on Sunday. The Cougars (17-8, 9-5) are on a three-game winning streak after beating ASU 65-58 in Pullman, Wash., on Friday night.
NOTE: Arizona reserve post player Ariyah Copeland missed her fourth consecutive game and she was not with the team at Washington. Barnes has mentioned that Copeland was suffering from a migraine headache two weeks when she missed the game against Oregon State. She did not travel to Tempe when Arizona played ASU last week but was on the bench out of uniform during Sunday’s win over the Sun Devils at McKale Center. Barnes mentioned after Friday’s game that Copeland did not travel with the team because she did not have enough practices with contact during the week and should be ready for next weekend when USC and UCLA visit.
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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.