The last day of 2023 was also the last non-conference game for the Arizona women’s basketball team as the Wildcats welcomed Seattle University to McKale Center on Sunday.
That welcome lasted one quarter as the Wildcats (9-4) built a comfortable lead and coasted to an 89-52 win.
“Today was a great way to close out 2023, just am happy that 2024 is here. I’m ready to get rid of 2023,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “For our team, I think its good, we were eleven days off and to come back and just kind of get the kinks out and we’ve actually improved on some things we needed to.
“I wanted to see how we’d respond after that tough loss in Phoenix against Gonzaga and then a break. It was a pretty long Christmas break, I think four or five days and then not playing for another week, so I think it was a good game going into the Pac-12 which is going to be very challenging.”
Seattle (1-10) competes in the Western Athletic Conference and are coached by first-year head coach Skyler Young, who previously was an assistant at the burgeoning program at Portland University.
Although Seattle plays in the WAC, it has a history playing on the big stage.
In 2018, the Redhawks were the 15th seed in the Women’s NCAA Tournament losing in the first round to Oregon. Seattle also appeared in the WNIT in 2013 and 2017.
Former Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini coached at Seattle from 2009 to 2016.
In the first quarter on Sunday, Arizona looked like a team coming off of an 11-day break. Shots weren’t as crisp as usual and the Wildcats struggled to get past Seattle’s zone defense. Despite the slow start, Arizona led 19-12.
“I think it was just getting the feel for the game again,” Arizona guard Kailyn Gilbert said. “We haven’t played in awhile, so just coming back from the break, even myself I was like just trying to get back into the rhythm. I don’t really think it was anything defensively that Seattle was doing I think it was just us.”
Behind increased defensive intensity, things started heating up for the Wildcats in the second quarter.
The Wildcats outscored Seattle 30-7 and were up 49-19 going into halftime.
With 3:23 remaining in the second quarter, Jada Williams appeared to get fouled but it was called a jump ball, possession to Seattle.
The McKale crowd didn’t agree with the call and got a little feisty.
Seattle’s home court, Redhawk Center, has a maximum capacity of 999, so hearing a feisty McKale crowd of a few thousand may have caused the Seattle turnover immediately after the jump ball call.
In the third quarter, Seattle hit 4 of 8 3-point shots but Arizona scored 26 points in the paint and shot 58.8 percent from the field to extend the lead to 74-35.
Even though the Redhawks outscored Arizona 17-15 in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats’ lead never dipped below 35 points.
Arizona wing Sali Kourouma wasn’t in uniform for the game.
Kourouma, who had a dislocated shoulder earlier in the season, aggravated the injury in practice.
“Sali just had another incident in practice so she was just going to be out like a couple more days so that just been a continuous problem because it is what it is until it’s repaired,” Barnes said regarding Kourouma not playing.
Gilbert was named “Bang-the-Drum” player of the game.
She had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. She added six assists and three steals.
Five other Arizona players scored in double digits:
Williams with 18, Helena Pueyo 12, Breya Cunningham 10, Isis Beh 10 and Esmery Martinez 15.
Arizona, 1-0 in the Pac-12 after winning at Arizona State two weeks ago, will play Friday against No. 8 Colorado (11-1, 1-0 Pac-12) at 6 p.m. at McKale Center. No. 12 Utah (10-3, 0-1) then visits Sunday at noon.