No. 20 Arizona made a statement controlling the flow of the game and overpowering No. 18 Baylor in a 75-54 victory in the Coast-to-Coast Challenge at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Sunday.
The partisan Baylor crowd and a national TV audience on ESPN2 witnessed fifth-year senior guard Shaina Pellington take over the game after coming off the bench in the previous game against Texas Southern.
Adia Barnes made that change following Arizona’s 77-50 loss against Kansas at McKale Center on Dec. 8.
Pellington was back in the starting lineup against Baylor and her quickness and playmaking ability was the difference in Arizona’s first win over a ranked opponent this season.
She finished with 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field — all on penetrations to the basket — and had eight assists with only two turnovers in 33 minutes.
She recorded Arizona’s first steal of the game in the last play of the first quarter, which led to a layup that put the Wildcats ahead 19-16.
Arizona never trailed thereafter.
Pellington’s driving layup through the lane against Baylor’s taller defenders was the final shot of the second quarter, putting Arizona ahead 43-31.
The Wildcats’ lead ballooned to 52-33 after they started the second half on a 9-2 run.
Arizona (9-1) wound up with 11 steals and forced Baylor (8-3) into 19 turnovers that resulted in a 25-2 edge in points-off-turnovers for the Wildcats.
Cate Reese, a Cypress, Texas, native returning to her home state, had 13 points and 13 rebounds for her 21st career double-double.
Arizona State transfer Jade Loville added 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range.
The Wildcats were 8 of 16 from beyond the arc, while Baylor struggled from there (6 of 23).
Esmery Martinez, a West Virginia transfer, had a game-high 15 rebounds.
Baylor, which was seven players who average in double-figure scoring, had only two players achieve that mark against the Wildcats.
Former UCLA standout Jaden Owens had 15 points and Sarah Andrews finished with 14.
Baylor shot 32.8 percent from the field while Arizona made 47.5 percent of its shots.
The Wildcats also produced 17 assists with only 11 turnovers.
Arizona is 14-8 in its last 22 games against ranked opponents after having a record of 50-190 in its previous such matchups dating to 1977. That winning percentage increase from 20.8 to 63.6 is impressive and shows how much Barnes has raised the program to become nationally prominent.
They will stay in the Dallas area through Wednesday, when they play at UT-Arlington at 2 p.m., Tucson time. The game will be televised on ESPN-Plus.
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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.