It took everything in the tank, including two last-second free throws from Kailyn Gilbert, for Arizona to recover from a 10-point third-quarter deficit to outlast No. 15 Utah 71-70 in overtime at McKale Center in front of 7,385 fans on Sunday afternoon.
A 3-pointer from Inês Vieira gave Utah a 70-69 lead with 1:05 to go. Arizona turned the ball over on the next possession but caused a shot clock violation to get the ball back with 17 seconds.
Gilbert missed a contested layup with 1.1 seconds left but was fouled, sending her to the free throw line, where she iced the game by making both attempts.
“I was nervous going to the line, but these are the times that I work for, so I knew I was gonna make both of them,” Gilbert said.
Utah called timeout then inbounded the ball on its side of the court. The pass went to Alissa Pili, who turned after catching the ball under the basket and fed a teammate the ball. The shot attempt fell short as the buzzer sounded.
It was sweet redemption for Gilbert, who missed a potential game-winning layup with two seconds left in regulation. She went on to score all six of Arizona’s points in overtime.
“I missed it. I was like, ‘I gotta do something.’ So I just didn’t want to let them down,” she said.
Arizona head coach Adia Barnes was happy to come away with a split against the mountain schools this weekend after losing to No. 5 Colorado 75-74 on Friday.
According to the Pac-12 broadcast of the game, Utah head coach Lynne Roberts and Kennady McQueen were dealing with food poisoning symptoms on Sunday.
“Utah is a really good team. That was a battle,” Barnes said. “Friday was hard against Colorado, and then today, just to pull it out to Utah. To lose by one and win by one— that was a big weekend for us.
“I thought that we battled, we played hard, and they’re (Utah) really hard to guard. What they run on offense, they’re like offensive machine, and we know that they had some people with some illness and some stuff before, but it was still a really good win for us.”
Sali Kourouma returned to the lineup on her own accord on Sunday as she awaits shoulder surgery soon from an injury sustained in an exhibition against Point Loma on Nov. 1, giving Arizona eight players in uniform on Sunday and one extra body they lacked against Colorado on Friday.
She scored seven points in 19 minutes off the bench, filling the void on the interior when Esmery Martinez fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
With the surgery soon, Kourouma posted on Instagram it was her last game of the season.
“Even her being at 50 percent helped us because it gave us another body, and one posts up, which was huge today because as Esmery(Martinez) went down. Sali helped us win this game,” Barnes said.
Barnes was impressed with her team’s effort, given the extended minutes players expended on Friday.
“It says a lot because playing with seven and then having seven-and-a-half because Sali just kind of came back for this game before her surgery. So it’s hard. Yesterday we couldn’t practice. So we did some walkthrough because they played for so many minutes. I mean, if you look at the stats, you know Jada played 37. They logged like over six miles on Friday.”
Gilbert led Arizona in scoring on Sunday with 22 points to go along with 12 rebounds and two assists. She said her 12 rebounds were a point of emphasis for Barnes after Colorado outrebounded the Wildcats 41-21 Friday.
Helena Pueyo scored well above her season average of 7.8 points, finishing with 20 points, four assists and three steals.
“Every time I have an open shot, I know I’m going to shoot it,” Pueyo said. “I feel good. I feel confident in my shot. So I’m just going to keep shooting. Especially right now with the short bench that we have.”
Esmery Martinez had nine points, six rebounds, and two assists to go with two steals before fouling out.
In a game with 12 lead changes and six ties, Arizona (10-5, 2-1) shot 45 percent from the field, making 7 of 15 shots from 3-point range. Utah shot 38 percent from the field, going 11 of 36 from beyond the arc.
The Wildcats had 23 points from turnovers to Utah’s 16.
Pili, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year, had 18 points and five rebounds.
Arizona was down 37-36 at halftime, but Colorado opened the second half on a 9-0 run on 3-pointers from Jenna Johnson, Pili and McQueen to put the Utes up 46-36. Utah closed the quarter going 1 of 9 from the field, but Arizona went on a cold spell of its own. Utah held a 57-50 lead after three quarters.
Arizona opened the game on a 6-0 run, with Cunningham scoring the game’s first four points off a layup and two free throws and Martinez scoring on a fast break layup. The Wildcats took a 10-2 lead — its largest lead all game — midway through the quarter on a contested layup from Martinez. Later in the quarter, turnovers by Arizona aided Utah’s 13-0 run. However, a 3-pointer by Pueyo and a layup by Gilbert brought Arizona within two points of Utah (11-4, 1-2) at 21-19 heading into the second quarter.
An early-second quarter 3-pointer by Gilbert gave Arizona a 24-21 lead. Arizona went on a nearly three-minute scoring drought before a steal by Pueyo led to a transition layup three minutes before half that gave Arizona a 31-29 lead. Gilbert hit a 3-pointer to extend the Arizona lead to 36-32, but a layup from Maty Wilke gave Utah a 37-36 lead at halftime.
Those still injured on Arizona’s roster include Isis Beh (concussion protocol), Erin Tack (knee) and Montaya Dew (torn ACL — out for season).
Arizona opens its Oregon road trip against Oregon State (12-2, 1-2) on Friday at 8 p.m.
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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.