Arizona Women's Basketball

Season-long issues doom Arizona in Pac-12 tournament loss to UCLA

Arizona trailed UCLA for over 31 minutes at Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon. (Arizona Athletics)

LAS VEGAS — A lack of effort, presence in the post, and cold spells on offense plagued Arizona for much of the afternoon, losing to a bigger and more confident UCLA team 73-59 in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas Thursday.

The issues have been a recurring theme for the Wildcats in many of their losses this season, including its current three-game losing streak. 

Beyond X’s and O’s, Arizona head coach Adia Barnes has sometimes struggled to instill intensity and effort in her players this season.

“I think it’s the stuff that I’m talking about, isn’t something I can teach. I can’t make you go out and play hard,” she said. “I can tell you, I can prepare you, I can give you all the tools, but then if you go in and can’t perform, that’s on you. As a coach, my job is to try to extract the best out of people, and it’s to prepare our team, which we are.”

UCLA (24-8) outrebounded Arizona 46-27 and had 17 second-chance points.

“We don’t have an inside presence right now. We don’t have someone that we can throw the ball to on the block and score consistently, and we don’t have great post defense right now, and that’s really hurting us because we’re getting really hurt inside,” Barnes said.

UCLA, which finished fifth in the regular season conference standings, beat Arizona State 81-70 in overtime in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday afternoon. Arizona had a bye in the first round because the Wildcats finished fourth in the conference.

In a sign of things to come in the third quarter, UCLA started the game on a 6-0 run that ended with a fast break layup from Bruins’ guard Camryn Brown, impelling Barnes to call a timeout almost two minutes into the game.

“That was a tough way to start. We had to call a timeout right away,” Barnes said. “That’s not Arizona, so that tells me we’re not ready to play.”

Arizona’s biggest lead of the game came when Lauren Fields hit a step-back jumper to put the Wildcats up 33-28 with 2:47 to go in the first half.

After an exciting first half with 10 lead changes, and three ties, UCLA held a 33-31 lead over Arizona at halftime.

Then the floodgates opened up for the Bruins on offense in the third quarter when UCLA guard Gina Conti capped off a 7-0 scoring run with a 3-point jumper to put the Bruins up 40-31 at the 8:29 mark.

UCLA guard Londynn Jones hit a 3-pointer with 5:18 remaining in the third quarter to give the Bruins a 47-35 lead — at that point, their the largest lead of the game.

The Bruins extended their lead to 55-39 on a three-point play from Brown after Paris Clark fouled her on a made-fast break layup with 1:31 left in the quarter.

“if you take away the first three minutes in the beginning of the game and you take away that run in the third quarter, we win the game, but those are things that we don’t understand,” Barnes said.

Arizona never recovered from its dismal third quarter on offense, in which the Bruins outscored it 22-12, and the Wildcats shot 15 percent from the field.

A 3-point jumper by Conti gave UCLA its biggest lead of the afternoon at 64-47 at the 7:30 mark in the fourth quarter.

Even though UCLA had no field goals over the last seven and a half minutes of the game, Arizona couldn’t take advantage.

Arizona now finds itself looking to recover from a three-game losing streak following regular-season-ending road losses to Oregon and Oregon State last weekend as it awaits its seeding in the NCAA tournament, something Barnes thinks the team can do if it refocuses its effort and execution.

“We had a big opportunity last weekend to build up. We didn’t do that, and that’s okay.” Barnes said. “We’re not going to host, just like we won on the road a couple years ago (in Arizona’s 2021 run to the NCAA championship game against Stanford). We just have to go get wins. So, we’re going to get better in the next 10 days, and then we’re going to have a chance. But we have to go out, and you have to play every second in the tournament like it’s your last.”

Arizona (21-9) will likely need leadership, accountability and execution from its fifth-year seniors, including Shaina Pellington.

Something that can be hard for seniors who are easily distracted by future professional basketball opportunities.

“Like Adia (Barnes) said, we do have many more opportunities ahead of us,” Pellington said. “But it’s gonna take us being present in the moment with one another, not thinking about the future and thinking about the past, and just getting the job done. By any means necessary.”

Pelligton had 10 points and three assists.

Reese had nine points and nine rebounds.

Lauren Fields and Jade Loville had 10 points each.

FOLLOW @KEVINMURFEE ON TWITTER! 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.

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