Issues on defense, cold stretches on offense, and a late technical foul for pushing on Esmery Martinez changed the momentum and helped Washington State beat No. 19 Arizona 70-59 in front of 7,494 fans on Sunday afternoon at McKale Center.
“I want to give credit to Washington State. The Cougars came in here, and they outplayed us,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “I think they had a stellar third quarter. They really punched us in the face and came out with a 9-0 run. We started very flat in the third quarter, and that’s unacceptable. Honestly, they came in and manhandled us, and we should have lost the game.”
Mentality and attitude are two areas Barnes believes the team needs to improve.
“I think that not hanging our heads and still staying locked-in and still thinking you have a chance to win is the mentality that I just don’t know if we have right now,” she said. “When you’re 0-for-7, and you’re not hitting your shots, how can you contribute? Well, you can contribute by being a great teammate. You contribute by being a communicator and a connector. You contribute by saying, ‘Hey , I got your back on defense.’ There’s things you can do, and it’s not all predicated on scoring.”
A made jumper from Jade Loville tied the game at 48-48 with 9:48 left before Washington State guard Tara Wallack scored a layup on the other end to regain a 50-48 lead for the Cougars.
After the play, Martinez was called for a technical foul for pushing Washington State center Bella Murekatete after it appeared Murekatete bumped into her while starting to head back on defense.
Arizona wouldn’t tie or have a lead for the rest of the game.
“We had fought so hard, and we were playing them pretty good to come back,” Barnes said. “Then, down two, that was a huge momentum shift. It was like the first dagger.”
Washington State guard Charlisse Leger-Walker, a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate who went 0-for-13 from the field, made two free throws to put the Cougars up 52-48.
The Cougars extended their lead to 58-50 before a 3-pointer from Madi Conner cut the lead to five with 5:34 remaining. Cate Reese would later cut the lead to 60-55 with 2:18 to go, but the Wildcats never got closer.
Washington State finished the game on a 10-4 scoring run.
Arizona got out to a slow start, going down 10-2 with 5:51 left in the first quarter.
Washington State forward Ula Motuga had five points during that stretch. A made 3-pointer by Helena Pueyo started a 7-0 run for the Wildcats that Martinez finished with two free throws after being fouled on a layup with 2:18 left in the first quarter. That closed the gap for the Wildcats at 10-9.
Arizona took its first lead since its opening bucket off a 3-pointer from Martinez with 1:19 to go in the quarter that put the Wildcats up 14-13. After a made layup from Washington State center Jessica Clarke, the Cougars held a 15-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Wildcats would regain the lead early in the second quarter, going on a 7-0 run beginning at the 8:49 mark when Martinez was fouled on a made layup, completing the three-point play to put the Wildcats up 17-15. The scoring run ended with a 3-pointer from Loville that put Arizona up 22-15 with 6:30 to go in the half.
It was Arizona’s biggest lead of the game.
Washington State regained the lead when guard Astera Tuhina hit a 3-pointer to put the Cougars up 26-25 with 1:42 in the half. Murekatete was fouled on a made layup with 19.5 seconds before half. She made the free throw to put the Cougars up 29-25.
Murekatete dominated inside the paint all game, finishing with 18 points and nine rebounds.
Loville was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 0.1 seconds left. She made two of three free throws to close Washington State’s lead to 29-27 at halftime.
“I think it was more so us. There was miscommunications, and I wasn’t ready and trapping when I normally was supposed to. I think that was more on us,” Conner said regarding Washington State imposing its style of play on Arizona. “They played chin action the entire game, and other Pac-12 teams do it as well, so I that was more so us just being focused and ready right when the ball goes on the court.”
It was another slow start on offense and defense for Arizona in the third quarter. Arizona missed its first three shots, and Washington State went on a 9-0 run off a fast break layup from Wallack, a three pointer from Johanna Teder, and a fast break layup from Murekatete off a turnover which she followed up with a layup to put the Cougars up 38-27 at the 7:16 mark.
The Wildcats went on a 8-0 run off a jumper from Kailyn Gilbert and two fastbreak 3-pointers from Conner that tied the game at 46-46 with under a minute in the quarter.
After a made layup from Wallack, Washington State regained its lead at 48-46 heading into the fourth quarter.
Arizona only held the lead over Washington State for about eight minutes, with the Cougars on top for most of the game.
The Wildcats had six steals, well below its average of 12.1 steals per game which had Arizona seventh in the nation in that category and first in the Pac-12.
Martinez led the Wildcats in scoring with 14 points. She also had four rebounds.
Conner had 13 points, Gilbert added 11 points and Reese finished with eight points and seven rebounds.
Pueyo led the team in assists with four.
Arizona next plays at No. 8 UCLA (17-5, 6-4) on Friday at 9 p.m. Tucson time.
FOLLOW @KEVINMURFEE ON TWITTER!
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.