Arizona Women's Basketball

Sam Thomas & fellow seniors winners in last regular-season game at McKale

A fun Senior Day celebration Saturday was Taylor-made for Sam Thomas, Bendu Yeaney, Ariyah Copeland and Semaj Smith.

Taylor Chavez played her most impactful game for Arizona since transferring from Oregon, sparking an awakening late in the second quarter and finishing with a season-high 18 points on five 3-pointers in the 68-59 victory over USC.

Lauren Ware had 12 points and 11 rebounds for her first double-double of the season and third of her career, a much-needed boost after UCLA controlled the rebounds 48-26 in Thursday’s 64-46 loss.

A crowd of 8,256 at McKale Center gave Arizona its most fans overall in a season with 99,424 in 13 games. The previous high was 95,098 in 16 home games in 2019-20.

The Wildcats (20-6, 10-6 Pac-12) finished No. 2 in the Pac-12 in average attendance (7,648 fans a game). Oregon finished the highest at 7,751.

Sam Thomas has started all 151 games in her career (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona moves on to the Pac-12 tournament next weekend in Las Vegas.

The Wildcats have a chance to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament depending how they finish in the tournament at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

The top 16 seeds of the NCAA tournament host the first and second rounds. Arizona was seeded No. 6 in the last ranking reveal on Feb. 10. The Wildcats are 3-3 since that reveal.

Taking care of the quarterfinal game Thursday in the Pac-12 tournament against either Washington or Colorado might be sufficient to making the top 16 seeds of the NCAA tournament. A potential game against Stanford in the semifinals can definitely solidy Arizona hosting in the first couple of rounds in the NCAA tournament.

Thomas’ last regular season game at McKale ended with her scoring 10 points with seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

Smith and Copeland were also involved in their last regular-season game at McKale. Yeaney announced to the McKale crowd after the game that she is returning next season. Shaina Pellington and Cate Reese, also seniors, are returning as well.

Arizona was still in a funk Saturday from losing Reese indefinitely with a separated shoulder coming off the lackluster loss to UCLA on Thursday.

The Wildcats trailed the Trojans 16-4 with 2:52 left in the first quarter.

The Wildcats, who failed to make their last 10 attempts from the field in the loss to the Bruins, missed their last 13 shots of the first quarter against USC.

Arizona, trailing 16-6 going to the second quarter, made five of its first eight shots of the second quarter to cut USC’s lead to 20-19 with 6:13 remaining in the half.

USC again looked like it was going to pull away on an 8-0 run that increased its lead to 31-22 with 1:56 left in the first half.

Chavez was put in the game with 1:07 left in the half after missing Thursday’s loss to UCLA for an undisclosed reason and the game changed.

Chavez’s 4-point play propelled Arizona’s 10-0 run to close the half.

She made another 3-pointer with 37 seconds left before a failed USC shot resulted in Thomas passing ahead to a breaking Pellington, who drove to the basket and made a layup while being fouled with 0.3 seconds left.

Pellington made the ensuing free throw to put Arizona ahead 34-33 at halftime.

Chavez’s five points, including her fourth 3-pointer of the game, in a 7-0 run late in the third quarter gave the Wildcats a 48-41 lead.

Her fifth 3-pointer with 7:43 remaining increased the lead to 57-47.

USC, led by reserve guard Alyson Miura’s season-high 19 points, did not come closer than six points the rest of the game.

After Miura’s 3-pointer cut the lead to 65-59 with 1:03 left, Thomas made two free throws with 41 seconds to put the game out of reach.

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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