No. 18 Arizona took care of business, handily defeating Colorado 61-42 in front of 8,267 fans on “Senior Day” Sunday afternoon at McKale Center to remain in the top four of the Pac-12 standings.
Finishing in the top four guarantees a bye in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, which goes from March 1-5 in Las Vegas.
After beating No. 4 Utah on Friday and beating Colorado on Sunday, Arizona (21-6, 11-5 Pac-12) also still holds on to hopes of hosting in the first round of the NCAA tournament, which goes to 16 teams based mostly on merit.
“Just a great weekend for us,” head coach Adia Barnes said. “We’re really proud of the way our team responded. Really proud of how we stepped up. We knew that we had to win some games. We knew that this weekend was just critical for us in standings in the Pac-12 and to possibly host (the first round of the NCAA tournament), it means a lot of different things.
“To beat No. 4 in the country on Friday and defend them well, and then to turn around after that and bounce back on Sunday and beat another top 25 team, it says a lot. We’re really proud of the way we played this weekend. It wasn’t always pretty, but we found a way to get the job done.”
Arizona held a 48-27 lead over Colorado (21-6, 12-4) heading into the fourth quarter.
The Buffaloes went on a 10-2 scoring run to begin the fourth quarter, cutting the Wildcats’ lead to 50-37 with 6:33 left in the game.
Barnes chalked up the run by Colorado as a result of the lineup on the court at the time.
“This game I tried to (experiment with different lineups), but for a couple minutes we struggled for some moments for that,” she said. “So then I kind of got like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to put some starters back in.”
Arizona answered with an 11-5 run the rest of the game. With 5:29 remaining, Esmery Martinez finished a 3-point play after being fouled on a made layup to put the Wildcats up 53-37. They never looked back.
Arizona went down 4-0 early — Colorado’s largest lead of the game.
The Wildcats went 0-5 from the field on its first five possessions.
Colorado senior forward Quay Miller was a force on the inside, scoring five points in the paint in the game’s first five and a half minutes. Colorado held a 9-5 lead with 4:34 remaining in the opening quarter.
A 3-pointer by Cate Reese tied the game at 10 at the 3:30 mark, igniting a 10-0 run for Arizona to close out the quarter up 17-10.
Shaina Pellington picked up where she left off on Thursday when she scored a career-high 35 points against No. 4 Utah. She scored Arizona’s first eight points of the second quarter. She scored 24 points against California last Sunday.
Barnes thinks having her father in town was a major factor in performances of late.
“I think one thing that sparked (her), honestly, is her dad,” she said. “She’s a daddy’s girl. He was her coach all of her life until she probaly started to go to the Canadian team (Canada Women’s National Basketball).
“He hadn’t been out here because of COVID. All those years it was really hard to get from Canada, and the borders were closed. So, it really meant a lot for her. For him to be here, it really meant a lot. I think she played with a different sense of urgency, and If she plays like that, he should be at every game from now on.”
The Wildcats took its largest game lead at that point at 27-16 when Jade Loville put in a transition layup at the 4:59 mark. Both teams finished the first half going a combined 0-9 from the field, with Arizona holding onto a 31-20 lead.
Arizona pushed its lead to 33-20 after Pellington hit a jumper in the first minute of the third quarter. She passed 1,500 career points with the bucket.
“I’ve been playing college basketball for a while, so it’s like, ‘Damn, it’s about time, shoot,'” she said. “I was wondering where I was … I’m really proud of what I was able to accomplish.”
Colorado would cut Arizona’s lead to 33-25 after junior guard Tameiya Sadler hit a 3-pointer with 6:09 remaining in the quarter.
Arizona finished the third quarter on a 15-2 scoring run.
Arizona honored four seniors — Pellington, Reese, Loville and Helena Pueyo — on Lute & Bobbi Olson Court after the game in a ceremony that featured highlights from their Arizona careers.
Pellington and Reese explained their emotions after the ceremony.
“It’s emotional. You’re watching the video and you’re seeing all the clips throughout your career and it’s just like, ‘Wow, I’m here, this is really it,'” Pellington said. “It’s just like a surreal moment, but it’s also just heartwarming to be spending time with your parents, your family, your teammates. Everybody’s there for you in that moment.”
“We have a couple games left here, I think,” Reese said about the possibility of hosting in the NCAA tournament. “(It’s) Bittersweet. My time is up, but I think it’s been an amazing five years. Nothing like I expected. I think we went and did some amazing things, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Barnes is confident that Pueyo, who has one year of eligibility remaining, will return to the team next year in lieu of professional basketball opportunities in her home country of Spain.
“I think that there’s a strong possibility that she’ll come back here, especially if we worked in some NIL deals, so I definitely put that out there,” she said. “It’s hard for foreign kids because they can’t get the Pell Grant or FAFSA (federal student loans). They can’t get that stuff, and so they miss out on opportunities to make money.
“So, I think if we got her an opportunity, I think (it’s) a bigger chance that she’ll come back. So, hopefully.”
Pellington led the Wildcats in scoring and assists, finishing with 19 points and five assists.
Martinez had 14 points and seven rebounds.
Reese had seven points and five rebounds.
Arizona next plays at Oregon (14-12, 5-10) on Thursday at 8 p.m. Tucson time.
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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.