Arizona Women's Basketball

Arizona comes up just short against more experienced, deeper Colorado

Helena Pueyo had nine points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals on Friday night at McKale Center. (Arizona Athletics)

Arizona gave its all in a 75-74 loss to No. 5 Colorado at McKale Center in front of an official attendance of 7,386 fans on Friday night in a game that had 10 lead changes.

The short-handed, undersized Wildcats suited only seven players because forward Isis Beh was in concussion protocol but gave Colorado all it could handle for most of the evening, forcing 19 turnovers — including 13 steals — coming up just short despite being outrebounded 41-21 by a bigger, deeper, more experienced Colorado team laden with juniors, seniors and graduate seniors.

Near the end of a seesaw fourth quarter in which Arizona held an eight-point lead at the 9:40 mark, a 3-pointer from Helena Pueyo gave Arizona a 72-71 lead with 2:08 remaining, but Colorado regained it off a layup from Jaylyn Sherrod, who was fouled on the play and made the free throw that followed. Esmery Martinez then cut the Colorado lead to 75-74 with a fast break layup with 1:14 to go.

The Wildcats had an opportunity to win at the buzzer, but a jumper in the paint by Breya Cunningham off an inbounds pass came up short.

“Colorado has a really good team,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “They have a core that’s been together for a long time, and they had success last year. I think they’re even better this year than last year, and they’re tough to play against.”

Barnes specifically credited Colorado players Sherrod, Frida Formann, SaraRose Smith and the late-game zone defense by the Buffaloes.

“Sherrod’s a handful in transition, Frida, you got to know at all times where she is. I think that they had some really good players,” Barnes said. “Number four, Smith, off the bench, really hurt us, and they just did some little things a little better than we did. Just credit to them because they’re a very good team, and they definitely took the game from us because we had an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter, but they put that zone on us and really had us a little bit stagnant.”

Arizona freshman guard Jada Williams finished with 16 points and five assists in what was probably her most complete game as a Wildcat. She said Barnes prepared the team mentally in practice this week leading up to the game.

“Of course, we were going to be nervous going in and playing a top-five team, but we knew we could hang in there, we had nothing to lose. We left our heart out there,” she said.

Colorado (12-1, 2-0 Pac-12) attacked the paint early and often on offense but also connected on two early three-pointers from Quay Miller and Sherrod to give the Buffaloes a 12-6 lead over Arizona with 4:52 remaining in the first quarter. Steals by Pueyo, Martinez and Skylar Jones that led to points helped Arizona (9-5, 1-1) cut the Colorado lead to 14-12 with 2:28 left in the opening quarter. Colorado clung to a 19-16 lead and had seven turnovers heading into the second quarter.

Kailyn Gilbert had a 3-point play on a contested layup to cut Colorado’s lead to 23-21 at the 7:56 mark of the second quarter, and a steal by Martinez led to a fast break layup for her that capped off a 6-0 run and brought the Wildcats to within a point of Colorado at 28-27 with 4:54 to go before halftime. Gilbert gave Arizona its first lead of the game at 29-28 with a contested layup. Arizona and Colorado would exchange leads three more times, and Colorado went into halftime clinging to a 38-36 lead. 

A 3-pointer from Maddi Nolan with 4:23 to go in the third quarter stretched Colorado’s lead to 50-45, but a 3-point play from Martinez, a jumper from Helena Pueyo and another 3-point play by Gilbert later regained the lead for Arizona at 53-52 at the 2:38 mark in the third quarter. A 3-pointer from  Williams gave the Wildcats a 56-52 lead, and a layup from Cunningham gave the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game at that point at 58-52 with under a minute in the quarter, capping off a 13-2 run. 

Barnes hopes to have Beh available for Sunday’s matchup at noon at McKale against a solid No. 15 Utah (11-3, 1-1) team led by standout forward Alissa Pili on Sunday.

“Pili really is one of the best posts in the country. She’s probably one of the best forwards in the country,” she said. “(She’s) extremely efficient, and can play inside and outside. So we have our hands full trying to guard her, but I think we’re good too, and we’re doing some good things, and we’re playing some good basketball. So, I think I would be happy if we had an opportunity to this split this weekend.”

All seven Arizona players scored on Friday.

Gilbert had 19 points, five rebounds and two assists.

Martinez had nine points, two rebounds and two assists.

Cunningham had 11 points and three rebounds.

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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