Arizona gutted out a hard-fought 72-69 comeback win over Oregon State on Friday night at McKale Center despite holding the lead for only about three minutes, producing a 15-0 run late in the fourth quarter.
“I’m proud of our team. This was a really big win for us,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “We showed resiliency after having a tough game against Stanford (73-57 loss at Palo Alto, Calif., on Monday), and we found a way.
“The sense of urgency we had with the press down the stretch and when we tired and found a way to win. Different people stepped up big, and Lauren’s (Lauren Fields) big shots, stuff that she’s capable of doing, we did a good job of finding her, feeding her, and just finding a way to gut it out.”
After former Arizona guard Bendu Yeaney, who started 53 games for the Wildcats (13-2, 3-1 Pac-12) before transferring in the offseason, hit a jumper to put the Beavers up 65-53 with 3:55 remaining in the game, Arizona went on a 15-0 run.
The run started with two free throws from Esmery Martinez, and a steal by Helena Pueyo, leading to a fast-break layup for her on the other end of the court.
Then it was the Lauren Fields Show.
Fields scored 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and a fast break layup following a steal by Shaina Pellington, which tied the game at 65-65 with 1:48 remaining.
Then it was Pueyo who gave the Wildcats a 68-65 lead with a 3-pointer. It was their first lead since the 5:50 mark in the first quarter when the Wildcats went up 9-8.
Yeaney cut the lead to 68-67 with a layup with 1:08 left in the game.
Pellington hit a jumper on the following possession to put the Wildcats up 70-67.
Fields on the comeback 72-69 win after trailing 65-53 with 3:57 left: “We always have to find a way. The games aren’t gonna be the prettiest. We weren’t making shots early, but we found a way to win and that’s what it’s all about.” https://t.co/8xuzsoWtGA
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) January 7, 2023
Oregon State guard Talia von Oelhoffen hit a layup to cut Arizona’s lead to 70-69 with 28 seconds remaining,but two made free throws by Fields and Pellington down the stretch sealed the deal.
Arizona finished the game making its six last field goals, with all of Fields’ nine points coming in the final 2:28 of the game.
Oregon State (9-6, 1-3) held a 38-30 lead at halftime, holding the Wildcats to a dismal 33 percent shooting from the field.
Oregon State guard AJ Marotte had 17 points in the first half but was held scoreless in the second half.
“She was phenomenal. I think (Oregon State head coach) Scott (Rueck) did a really good job using her, ” Barnes said. “We had a tough time guarding her off of down screens.”
According to Barnes, some of the changes on defense in the second half, including a full-court press, led to the late run.
“The defensive lineup is the one thing that really kept the comeback later. Sometimes just sitting, processing, and watching doesn’t hurt,” she said. “The way they did our press down the stretch with our traps and the pressure, that’s how we need to start games.”
The Wildcats double-teamed Marotte more in the second half, leaving the interior open for Beavers’ forward Raegan Beers, who finished the game with 19 points.
“We had to then go to playing off other people and that’s a challenge. She’s super strong. She’s a great freshman,” Barnes said.
Barnes rates this comeback win as one of the most memorable in her time as Arizona’s coach since she returned to her alma mater 2016.
“We were down, and like every time we had come back, we came within four or six, and they made a run,” Barnes said. “So, I think this is probably one of our best comebacks. It’s definitely a top two or three.”
Yeaney had eight points, 10 rebounds and five assists in her return to McKale Center.
“It was very different. I remember in the warmups looking at her running on the court, and I’m like, ‘This feels different.’ It was really strange, but she’s at a place where she’s happy, and I’m happy for her,” Pellington said. “She’s excelling there, and that’s all you can really ask for. She played great years (at Arizona), and she’s doing great things at Oregon State, too.”
“She looks better in red and blue, but she’s okay in orange and black,” Barnes added. “I think for her, being able to end her career at home, get her master’s at home with her family. They are a very close family. You know, she’s had some tragedy in her family (her brother was shot and killed in Portland, Ore., in October), so I think everything happens for a reason.
“God puts you in places where you should be, and she was home at that time with her family, and we still keep in contact with her. You see the crowd gave her a standing ovation.”
The official attendance for Friday night’s game was 7,182, just under Arizona’a Pac-12 leading attendance average of 7,288 fans a game.
Crowd of 7,182 tonight falls slightly under the average. Arizona now averaging 7,275 fans a game after eight home games. Big game against No. 18 Oregon on Sunday at 5 p.m. Games like that, a crowd close to 10,000 at least should attend with the state of UA’s program now. https://t.co/Ilrz3BLzcH
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) January 7, 2023
Arizona forward Maya Nnaji did not play because she was in concussion protocol. Barnes expects her to play Sunday against No. 18 Oregon at McKale Center (tipoff is at 5 p.m.).
Cate Reese, having to shoulder more of the load at the post with Nnaji out, led Arizona in scoring with 16 points. She also had three steals.
Pellington and Pueyo each finished with 12 points and six assists.
Madison Conner, who had 10 points off the bench in the loss at Stanford, was productive again making both of her 3-point attempts and finished with eight points.
Oregon (12-3, 3-1) defeated Arizona State 82-62 in Tempe on Friday night.
The game Sunday will feature two former Sun Devils on opposite teams who transferred during the offseason — Arizona’s Jade Loville and Oregon’s Taya Hanson.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. Murphy is a journalist product manager with the Green Valley News & the Sahuarita Sun. He has a bachelor’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU.