After a slow, choppy start on offense, Arizona eventually pulled away from San Diego in the third quarter, beating the Toreros 79-66 at McKale Center on Tuesday night.
San Diego guard Dylan Horton scored seven consecutive points, giving the Toreros their second lead of the game at 40-39 with 5:05 to go in the third quarter, but multiple steals from Arizona leading to fast break points helped lead to a 13-0 run, and the Wildcats held a 52-40 lead with 3:30 to go in the quarter.
Arizona held a 56-49 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Wildcats went on a 7-0 run early in the fourth quarter, taking a 63-51 lead with 7:36 to go.
Arizona (4-0) hit six of its next eight field goals to extend the lead to 76-61 with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
Given the parody in college basketball and a short bench, as the team awaits for the NCAA to reinstate Middle Tennessee State transfer guard Courtney Blakely after being ruled ineligible, Arizona head coach Adia Barnes was satisfied with the performance from the Wildcats.
“A win’s a win, regardless of how pretty or ugly it is, a win is a win,” she said. “There’s a lot of upsets around the country, so I’m just happy we were able to win the third game in five days with a short roster. It’s pretty difficult.”
Arizona forced San Diego (2-1) into 29 turnovers but had 24 of its own. Besides improvement in blocking out in the post and shooting at a higher percentage, Barnes says limiting turnovers on offense is a major priority.
“I think teaching them the proper footwork to pass and teaching Skyler (freshman guard Skylar Jones) and the young players you have to jump stop in basketball,” she said. “If you pass jumping in the air, you turn the ball over 90 percent of the time.”
Arizona started the game 3-for-11 from the field, but eleven San Diego turnovers, including seven steals, aided the Wildcats to an 18-10 lead after the first quarter.
The Wildcats continued to struggle to find a rhythm on offense in the second quarter, with San Diego cutting the Arizona lead to 31-28 late in the first half, but a jumper from Sali Kourouma and a layup from Kailyn Gilbert stretched the lead to 35-28 at halftime.
Gilbert— who led all scorers with 21 points and had four rebounds and three assists — is embracing her role as a floor general this season, filling a void left by Shaina Pellington, who graduated last season.
“Just really whatever my team needs from me, I want to be that for them,” Gilbert said. “So, if they need me to defend, I will do that. (If) They need me to rebound, I will do that. So whatever my team needs, I want to be there for them.”
Barnes is pleased with Gilbert’s progression into her role this season, especially for stepping up her commitment on the defensive side of the ball.
“She (Gilbert) has developed mentally and physically. She’s in great shape. She’s strong. But her mental game has improved the most,” Barnes said. “Kayla didn’t think before you had to play defense, and I reminded her in basketball, we play two ends. We play offense, and we play defense.”
Barnes is excited for the challenge ahead, and the opportunity for growth in the program when it travels to the Bahamas for the Battle4Antlantis tournament tomorrow morning.
“It’s fun because we’re young and we’re absorbing everything. We don’t have egos and attitudes,” she said. “We’re having fun. We don’t have any bad kids. We don’t have any bad attitudes.
“We have immaturity, where someone hangs their head, but it’s correctible things, and I think everybody respects each other and wants to get better.”
Kourouma had 14 points and seven rebounds.
Esmery Martinez and Maya Nnaji each had 12 points.
Helena Pueyo had two points, nine rebounds, six assists and six steals.
Arizona hosts Memphis (1-2) in the Battle4Atlantis in the Bahamas on Saturday at 12:30 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.