Heading into Thursday’s exhibition game against the Point Loma Sea Lions, Arizona was down to six players healthy enough to suit up for the game. At tip off, that number was down to five when Esmery Martinez was sidelined with a migraine.
Under NCAA rules, games can be played with five active players. Pac-12 rules require seven.
Explaining the thought process behind moving forward with the game, Arizona coach Adia Barnes said, “Could I have canceled the game, probably. I just didn’t think it was good. The fans are planning, the arena is set up, people have jobs and so I thought if we can play with five and not risking injury because the health and safety of the players is the first thing when we play. I thought it’s probably a little bit lighter load than a practice. That’s why I choose to play. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.”
Point Loma coach Charity Elliott agreed prior to the start of the game to a running clock due to Arizona’s depleted active roster. The clock operator struggled to keep the clock running and throughout the game the clock was stopped when it shouldn’t have been.
Arizona got off to a slow start and the Sea Lions took advantage going up 11-6 mid-way through the first quarter before the Wildcats pulled away winning 52-44.
Forward Sali Kourouma led the Wildcats with 17 points, hitting seven of nine from the field and three for three at the line.
Maya Nnaji added 14 points, while Jada Willaims and Kailyn Gilbert both had 8 points.
Nnaji on playing all 40 minutes of the game: “I was excited to do it. I’m like this is going to be fun. I’ve played basketball for my whole life, since I was 4 years old. It’s been like fifteen, sixteen years and I’ve never done nothing like this before.”
With under a minute left in the game, Kourouma’s shoulder popped out while trying to go for a steal. Arizona trainer Bart Jameson was able to pop Kourouma’s shoulder back in on the court.
After her shoulder was back in place, Kourouma tried to stay in the game. “Bart was like, ‘No, you’ve got to come out. The refs, they don’t want you back in. They stopped the play so you have to sit out.’ But I’m like, I’m good,” Kourouma said.
With Kourouma headed to the bench, Barnes subbed in freshman Breya Cunningham.
Arizona was assessed a team technical with the substitution because Cunningham was not listed on the active roster for the game.
Cunningham, a 2023 McDonalds All-American, had two points and a blocked shot during her 38 seconds of play. The first of her college career.
Arizona opens the regular season on Monday, Nov. 6 against New Mexico State in Las Cruces.