The fifth-ranked Texas Longhorns came into McKale Center scoring an average of 92 points per game and holding opponents to 52 points
It was an 88-75 loss to the unbeaten Longhorns (11-0 overall), but some solace — Arizona was able to hold the Longhorns under their scoring average and scored more on Texas than any other team up to this point in the season.
This happened while being undermanned.
Sophomore center Maya Nnaji was not in attendance. The school announced through Pac-12 Networks before the game that Nnaji was taking a break to concentrate on academics.
Afterward, it was discussed by coach Adia Barnes that Nnaji “possibly” will return to Arizona but Nnaji’s focus right now is on her studies as a pre-med student.
“She is off the team right now, focusing on academics,” Barnes said regarding Nnaji’s absence.
“She’s in the APME (Accelerated Pathway to Medical Education) program which is a track for medical school. It’s really challenging. It has a lot of demands. She misses a lot because of basketball so it’s difficult.
“That balance is hard, so when she needed a break, I was very supportive and all in on it because that was what she signed up for. I knew she was going to that program when she got here, so I have to support what she is doing because her dreams and aspirations are to be a doctor.”
The last day for finals for Arizona was on Wednesday.
Without Nnaji, Erin Tack and Montaya Dew, Arizona (7-3) had only nine scholarship players in uniform.
Texas had six players scoring in double figures against Arizona, including graduate transfer guard Shaylee Gonzales, who played three years at BYU after graduating from Mesquite High School in Gilbert.
Gonzales finished with 12 points while making 4 of 7 shots from 3-point range.
Averaging 9.1 points per game for the Longhorns, Gonzales was on the 2020-21 BYU team that lost to Arizona in the second round of the 2021 NCAA tournament during the Wildcats’ run to the championship game.
Gonzales’ brother Cohanj is a freshman guard with the Pima Community College basketball team.
The Wildcats were led by sophomore guard Kailyn Gilbert, who scored a career-high 26 points.
She was 8 of 21 from the field, 3 for 3 on 3-point shots and 7 of 8 from the free-throw line.
She also had five rebounds and two assists.
“It’s like an extra push just hearing them loud. It’s just something you want to play for, I love playing in McKale,” Gilbert said about the crowd support even when trailing.
With 9:24 left in the first quarter, Breya Cunningham had to sit with two fouls and didn’t return until the start of the third quarter. Cunningham scored 12 points and had three steals and five rebounds.
Cunningham said about playing defense inside in the second half: “Just being more open in help and being more mobile because they were going inside a lot. Their big 44 (Taylor Jones) was posting up like every play. I had to really focus on being present on defense and not fouling on her (Jones).”
With 1:15 left in the first quarter Arizona took their first lead, 22-21, off of a Sali Kourouma 3-pointer.
Texas quickly retook the lead ending the first quarter with a 25-22 lead.
Arizona’s basket grew a lid in the second quarter. The Wildcats had good opportunities to score but started forcing shots. Texas outscored Arizona 20-14 in the second quarter going into the locker room at the half leading 45-36.
With Texas leading by more than 20 points in the fourth quarter, Arizona turned on the defense and went on a 15-1 run to cut the lead to 11.
To the delight of the large contingent of Gonzales supporters sitting behind the Texas bench, Gonzalez ended the Wildcats’ run with a 3-point basket from the left corner.
Arizona outscored Texas 23-12 in the fourth quarter.
Arizona travels to Tempe to take on Arizona State in the Pac-12 opener on Sunday at 5:00 p.m.
Next home game is Dec. 31 against Seattle University at 2:00 p.m.
Arizona fifth year senior Esmary Martinez became the only active D1 player with at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and at least 200 assists.