No. 20 Arizona is looking to make a statement today at Dallas against another team from the Big 12 — traditionally strong No. 18 Baylor — after losing by 27 points at home against Kansas last week.
The Wildcats (8-1) will play the Bears (8-2) as part of the Coast-to-Coast Challenge at the American Airlines Center, where the Mavericks play.
Baylor-Arizona is the third game in a quadruple-header, starting with the seventh-ranked Texas men against Stanford followed by the Texas women vs. USC. The nightcap is the No. 11 Baylor men taking on Washington State.
Cats look to capture their first ranked win of the season. 😼 pic.twitter.com/XYw5W3Q2SH
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) December 18, 2022
The game between Baylor and Arizona at 5:30 p.m. will be broadcast live on ESPN2, with Pam Ward and Debbie Antonelli calling the action. KTUC (1400-AM) will have the game live on radio.
Arizona is 13-8 in its last 21 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 61.9 is impressive and shows how much Adia Barnes has raised the program to become nationally prominent.
FOR STARTERS …
Barnes started team captain Helena Pueyo at point guard against Texas Southern, using Shaina Pellington off the bench. It was the first time since the 2020-21 season that Pellington did not start.
Pueyo has shown some strides with her offensive production along with her always-reliable defensive performance. She is second in the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals per game.
Her 6.9 points per game are more than what she averaged the last two seasons — 3.4 last year and 3.7 in 2020-21.
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) December 18, 2022
Pueyo’s biggest deficiency in her career is being more aggressive shooting the ball more. She is averaging 4.6 shots per game compared to 4.2 in her previous three seasons, but she is more effective shooting 59.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point range. In her first three seasons, she shot 37.3 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc.
She is also averaging 3.1 assists per game after averaging 1.9 previously in her career.
Don’t be surprised if Barnes goes back to Pellington to start at point guard against Baylor to help set the tone with Pellington’s quickness and playmaking ability.
ARIZONA SHOWING MORE BALANCE
The Wildcats’ defense is again a strength for Barnes. They lead the Pac-12 in steals per game (13.6) — which ranks eighth in the nation.
Arizona forced 30 Texas Southern turnovers, its most in a game this season, in Wednesday’s 89-55 win at McKale Center. Arizona has forced at least 17 turnovers in every game this season.
Arizona’s offense this season has made the Wildcats more balanced than years past.
The Wildcats are tied for 10th nationally in scoring, averaging 84 points per game. They are 12th in the country in scoring margin at 24.8.
Arizona is the only Pac-12 program and one of four teams in the nation with at least six players averaging at least 7.3 points a game while shooting 44 percent of better from the floor.
Barnes’ team is the only team in the Pac-12 with four players averaging at least 12.0 points per game — Pellington (13.6), Jade Loville (13.0), Esmery Martinez (12.2) and Cate Reese (12.1).
“Arizona is really different,” Baylor coach Nikki Collen said on the school’s Web site about the Wildcats’ roster. “Three of their five starters weren’t even at Arizona a year ago. . . . I’ve seen them enough to know that we’ve got to take care of the basketball. If you give them one shot and you don’t turn it over, you’ve got a really good chance to win. If you’re giving them second and third opportunities and giving them points in transition off turnovers, then you’re in for a long night.”
In the win over Texas Southern, Reese (20 points and 10 rebounds) and Martinez (16 points and 12 rebounds) became the first Wildcat duo since 2018-19 (Reese and Aari McDonald) to record a double-double in the same game.
Reese’s double-double was her first of the season and the 20th of her career. She additionally made two steals and three assists against the Tigers.
Reese told the Pac-12 Network after Wednesday’s win over Texas Southern that she will remain in Texas after the game against Baylor and at Texas-Arlington on Wednesday to spend Christmas with her family in Cypress.
Arizona’s first game after Christmas is against ASU on Dec. 29 at McKale Center in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
Arizona Career Double-Double Leaders
TRANSFERS MARTINEZ & LOVILLE MAKING IMMEDIATE IMPACT
Martinez, a transfer from West Virginia, is averaging 9.3 rebounds per game (third in the Pac-12) and has totaled 84 rebounds (tied for second in the Pac-12). She leads the team in offensive rebounds with 34.
She shot 85.7 percent from the field, going 6-of-7 and making a three-pointer, in the win over Texas Southern.
Loville’s 10 points against Texas Southern gives her double figures in seven of Arizona’s
nine games this season. The former ASU standout set a program record for single-game three-point percentage with an 85.7 (5-of-6) at New Mexico two weeks ago. She went 10-of-13 from the field to tally a season-high 27 points.
She is shooting 47.6 percent from behind the arc through the first nine games
— Baylor senior forward Alijha Blackwell was quoted by the school’s Web site as saying: “It’s going to be a big stage, top-25 matchup. We’ve just got to come and play Baylor basketball. I just know (Barnes) and the way she plays is very tough. We’ve got to come with our intensity and take over the game.”
— This is Baylor’s fourth top-25 matchup this season after beating Villanova sandwiched between close losses to Maryland and Michigan.
— The Bears are coming off a 93-27 win at home over Tennessee State, with freshman Darianna Littlepage-Buggs recording her fourth double-double and outscoring the Tigers with 30 points and 11 rebounds.
“I wasn’t the best at it at first,” Littlepage-Buggs said of her mid-range game, “but my coaches have been telling me, ‘Let’s work on this, let’s get shots up,’ and telling me what I need to fix on it and just lifting me up. I think I’ve been taking that and shooting and stuff and just implementing it in the game.”
— Baylor is the only women’s team in the country with seven players averaging double-digit points, led by Blackwell and junior guard Sarah Andrews with 13.3 per game. Littlepage-Buggs bumped up her averages to 10.4 points and 9.3 rebounds with Caitlin Bickle (11.3), Bella Fontleroy (10.9), Jaden Owens (10.5) and Ja’Mee Asberry (10.1) also averaging double figures.
“It’s just really good to see her have the ball go through the net,” Collen said of Buggs, who was 13-of-18 from the floor against Tennessee State. “If you had asked me what’s Buggs good at coming here to Baylor, I would have told you elbow jumpers, especially if she can get into a rhythm off one bounce, short-corner jumpers, and then just scoring around the rim, being a utility Swiss-Army-knife type kid.”
— Collen was the head coach of the Atlanta Dream when McDonald was the third pick overall in the 2021 WNBA draft. She shortly thereafter became Baylor’s coach after Kim Mulkey left for LSU.
The Bears are 36-9 under Collen. As a No. 2 seed in last year’s NCAA tournament, Baylor was upset in the second round by No. 10 South Dakota 61-47.
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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.