LAS VEGAS — Arizona lost its Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal game against Colorado on Thursday, but Adia Barnes believes that should not take the Wildcats out of contention to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament March 18-21.
“We deserve that 4 seed,” Barnes said, mentioning the last potential seed that can host the first and second rounds. “We’re not healthy right now (with Cate Reese missing the last three games after suffering a separated right shoulder).
“We’ve put our work in the whole year. We have an incredible environment (at McKale Center) where we’d be shocked if we didn’t sell out, which is really good for our game. We’re a good team. We’ve had some bad losses lately but we’ve beat some really good teams throughout the year, and the first one I can think of is Louisville, but there’s a list of them.”
The Wildcats (20-7) suffered their third loss in the their last four games with the 45-43 setback against the Buffaloes at the Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay.
In the most recent NCAA tournament seed reveal this week, the Wildcats were seeded No. 11, among the top 16 seeds that would host.
Barnes mentioned that Reese — who had her sling removed this week — could have played in the Pac-12 tournament, especially if Arizona made the championship game. But she said she wanted to save Reese for the NCAA tournament.
“I could have pressed as a coach and had Cate back this week,” Barnes said. “But it wouldn’t be constructive and it wouldn’t be productive for the (NCAA) tournament. Honestly, the NCAA tournament is more important than the Pac-12 tournament — sorry Pac-12, I love you, but it is what it is.”
Colorado’s latest NET ranking is No. 29, so Thursday’s loss is not an altogether bad one for Arizona.
The Buffaloes are 22-7 after winning eight of their last nine games. They play the winner of the Oregon State-Stanford game on Friday at 6 p.m. in a semifinal game.
Colorado coach JR Payne utilized a zone defense against Arizona a majority of the game and the Wildcats had trouble shooting over it, making only 2 of 24 shots from 3-point range.
“Our zone defense is not really a defense that forces you to shoot threes,” Payne said. “We try to pressure the ball in our zone and be disruptive as much as we can. They just ended up taking a lot of threes. That wasn’t necessarily our game plan. That was just sort of what they ended up choosing to do offensively.”
When asked if there was an adjusment made to the zone because of Reese’s absence inside, daring the Wildcats to shoot from the outside, Payne said, “There wasn’t.”
“Reese is a really great player, one of the best players in this conference, but there was no real adjustment on our behalf I would say offensively or defensively as it relates, because they take Cate Reese out and they add somebody else in that is also really good because they’re very deep team,” Payne added.
Despite its 25 percent shooting (12 of 48) from the field in the game, Arizona still had an opportunity with 15 seconds left in regulation with the ball to either take the lead or tie.
Shaina Pellington drove the lane and kicked the ball out to Koi Love, who went to the basket and was double-teamed. She missed and Colorado’s Kindyll Wetta grabbed the rebound.
Payne called a timeout with 4.2 seconds left and that backfired because it allowed Arizona to set its defense.
Lauren Ware, who led the Wildcats with 15 points and eight rebounds, stole the inbounds pass and Barnes called timeout with 2.0 seconds remaining.
Pellington took the inbound pass and ran to her left behind the 3-point line and her shot did not draw iron as the buzzer sounded.
The Wildcats had similar way off-the-mark shots in the game with some of the shots airballs and many of them hitting the backboard without drawing the rim. The 25 percent shooting is a season low, dubiously topping the 28.1 percent the Wildcats shot in a 64-46 loss to UCLA last week at McKale Center.
“Honestly, I feel like it was just one of those days for us,” said Taylor Chavez, who missed all four of her field goal attempts, all from 3-point range. “The majority of us especially Sam (Thomas) and I, played here last year. I don’t think we shot that poorly, but some days just go like that.”
Chavez, Madison Conner and Thomas — consistently good 3-point shooters this season — combined to shoot 1 of 16 from beyond the arc.
“I don’t think there will ever be a time at least throughout Maddy’s career being here for the next three years where the top 3-point specialists combine for 1 of 16,” Chavez said. “That won’t happen again.”
Barnes said, “Yeah, I hope not.”
Colorado also struggled shooting 32.6 percent from the field (5 of 17 from 3-point range) and the Buffaloes also had 21 turnovers.
Arizona had trouble capitalizing off those turnovers a majority of the time because of their poor shooting, scoring 19 points off of them.
With two of Colorado’s best players — Wetta and Mya Hollingshed — on the bench with four fouls, Arizona scored 10 unanswered points off their full-court pressure defense to take a 41-38 lead with 6:50 left.
Chavez made two free throws after she was fouled following a steal and then Love converted off a turnover to get that rally going. Two more turnovers led to another layup by Love and one by Pellington.
“I should have probably done that before,” Barnes said about playing the full-court press, which the Wildcats call The Arizona Defense. “I think that’s a really aggressive press we have. With playing kind of a limited bench a little bit and having people out of positions, some of our presses and stuff are a little bit harder to play today, just because
Sam played a little bit of (power forward).
“So the rotation is a little different. I thought we should have done that a little bit earlier because we did turn them over.”
Pellington picked up her fourth foul with 6:04 remaining but remained in the game for the most part.
Wetta and Hollingshed returned to the game with 6:50 left.
None of them fouled out.
The turning point for Colorado was Frida Formann scoring five of her eight points — including a 3-pointer — in one stretch to put the Buffaloes ahead 45-41 with 2:00 left.
Pellington cut the lead to 45-43 on two free throws with 52 seconds left.
Wetta missed a 3-pointer and Arizona gained possession before calling the timeout with 15 seconds left that led to the last unsuccessful sequence of Love and Pellington missing the Wildcats’ last two attempts.
“Not a pretty game for our game, for women’s basketball,” Barnes said. “But they made us shoot threes … I told the team, ‘You guys all can’t be cold at the same time. At least if one person is cold, someone else hit some shots.'”
Both teams were cold from the field, symbolic of the two best defensive teams in the conference. Entering the game, Arizona ranked second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing 57.3 points a game, while Colorado was the No. 1 team giving up only 56.8 points a game.
Thomas made Arizona’s first 3-point try (after eight misses by the Wildcats) with 6:22 left in the first half — part of a 9-0 run that gave the Wildcats a 19-11 lead.
Colorado quickly cut into that lead not allowing Arizona to make another shot from the field the rest of the half, an 0-of-7 stretch.
A layup by Jaylyn Sherrod capped six unanswered points to cut the lead to 19-17 with 4:17 left until halftime.
Colorado took a 24-22 halftime lead after Wetta made two free throws with 1:00 left in the half.
“There was a time I felt in the first half that we were going to kind of pull away but we never could quite do it,” Barnes said. “They made some big plays or there was a call that didn’t go our way or something, some factors happened, where we could never pull away.”
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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.