A little more than 48 hours after beating ASU at McKale Center and less than 48 hours before Arizona plays at Stanford, the No. 18 Wildcats built their winning streak to five games with a tight win over Cal heading into their anticipated matchup Monday with the second-ranked Cardinal.
The Wildcats (12-1, 2-0 Pac-12) overcame a cold shooting performance from the field in the second half and from the free-throw line overall, 13 turnovers and foul trouble with Esmery Martinez and Shaina Pellington to outlast the Golden Bears 63-56 Saturday night in front of a sparse crowd at Haas Pavilion.
California (9-4, 0-2) has lost consecutive games after winning three straight games.
“Any road win in the Pac-12 is a good win,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said during the postgame show on KTUC (1400-AM). “This was a tough one. We were a step behind pretty much the whole game, just didn’t come out with a bunch of energy.
“But we found a way to win and that’s what I’m happy for. Every game is not going to be perfect. You’re going to win in different ways. The way that we gutted it out and figured it out, I think that was good. I’m proud of that.”
Lauren Fields’ 3-pointer — her first shot made in the game — with 33 seconds left put Arizona ahead 60-56. It was also Arizona’s first 3-pointer made in the second half.
Fields then corralled the defensive rebound on the missed 3-point attempt by Jayda Curry, who was an uncharacteristic 4 of 18 from the field and 2 of 11 from beyond the arc.
Helena Pueyo made two free throws with 14.2 seconds left to increase the lead to 62-56.
After Fields missed two free throws with 10 seconds left, Curry was off the mark on another 3-point attempt.
Pellington, 2 of 8 from the free-throw line, missed two more from the line with 2.2 seconds remaining.
Cate Reese was then fouled on the rebound and closed out the game making one of two free-throw attempts.
Arizona was 12 of 24 from the free-throw line and 24 of 55 (43.6 percent) from the field in the game.
“It just was so ugly,” Barnes said. “I think we were just out of sorts. I don’t know. I didn’t feel like we shot 44 percent. It felt like we shot 32 percent.”
Arizona attempted only seven 3-pointers and made two in Thursday’s 84-66 win over ASU. The Wildcats attempted only eight shots from beyond the arc against Cal, making three.
“We’re not limited by the 3, but it’s weird because I feel like we’re not really getting them,” Barnes said. “We’re not passing up a lot. But I think Jade (Loville) and Lauren are doing a really good job of attacking the basket. I think those things will come to fruition later. It’s a little sloppy right now.”
The Wildcats were 9 of 25 (36 percent) from the field in the second half. For most of the half, they had more turnovers (seven) than shots made.
Arizona survived with Esmery Martinez having her worst game since transferring from West Virginia, finishing with two points and four rebounds before fouling out with 4:58 left and Arizona ahead 54-50.
Martinez was beset by a left eye injury from an inadvertent poke by Loville early in the game that required her to go to the locker room, where her eyelid was sutured, according to Barnes.
“She’s fine,” Barnes said. “I think they usually have to drain it with a needle and they sutured it. … So she’s okay, but that was just a random thing. It was actually Jade’s finger. Jade doesn’t have nails so it was just her finger.”
Not having Martinez for most of the game — she only played 13 minutes — was “big because she is our best rebounder by far,” Barnes said.
Entering the game, Martinez ranked third in the Pac-12 in rebounds per game at 9.8 and led the league in offensive rebounds with 45. She was one of two players in the Pac-12 and 24 players nationally averaging at least 12. points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
Reese led Arizona with 14 points and seven rebounds in the win over Cal, which had a crowd of only 605 at Haas Pavilion in the New Year’s Eve game.
Pellington had 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field with four assists and no turnovers in 33 minutes. She finished with four fouls, forcing her to sit for three minutes in the fourth quarter.
She made her first five shots in the first half before going 0 of 4 in the second half.
Freshman point guard Kailyn Gilbert was vital off the bench in place of Pellington with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field.
Curry scored all 13 of her points in the second half to lead Cal’s comeback after the Golden Bears trailed 33-20 at halftime.
She did not make her first 3-pointer until 9:20 remained. That kept her streak of consecutive regular season games with at least one 3-pointer going at 35 games.
Her streak is the longest among all active Pac-12 players and is tied for the third longest streak of any Pac-12 player since the 1999-00 season.
Arizona travels to Palo Alto, Calif., Sunday morning to prepare for Monday’s game at Stanford at 12:30 p.m.
The Cardinal (14-1, 2-0) defeated ASU 101-69 on Saturday night at Maples Pavilion.
“We need to play better, obviously, or else we’ll get blown out,” Barnes said. “I think we will play better. This is just one of those things we have to figure it out, find a way to win.
“They got hot. We took punches. At the end, you’re 2-0. You’re playing with house money. You’re going on the road. You’re not supposed to win. … If we lose on the road, we lose. If we win, it’s a great win. So I think there’s no pressure. We know we have to play better. I think we will. And I’m just excited.”
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
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.