Arizona Women's Basketball

Arizona comes up just short against USC in the Pac-12 quarterfinals, Pueyo becomes Arizona’s all-time leader in steals

Arizona had 15 steals in a 65-62 loss to USC on Thursday night. (Arizona Athletics)

After recovering from a 13-0 deficit to open the game, Arizona eventually fell to No. 5 USC, 65-62, in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Thursday night.

Arizona (17-15) will now have to wait until Selection Sunday on March 17 to see if it makes the NCAA tournament.

Six steals for fifth-year senior Helena Pueyo made her Arizona’s all-time leader in steals (305), topping Dee-Dee Wheeler’s Arizona record of 304 from 2002-05.

Pueyo led the way for Arizona, finishing with 19 points, six assists, and four rebounds to go along with her six steals.

Her 17 field goal attempts were the most she’s ever attempted in an Arizona uniform.

ESPN’s bracketologist Charlie Creme had Arizona on the bubble looking in, in the “next four out” category when he last updated his NCAA bracket on March 4, before Arizona’s 58-50 win over Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament Wednesday night.

Arizona went 8-10 in a highly competitive Pac-12 conference, and has won five of its last eight games of the season, including a 68-61 win at No. 3 Stanford on Feb. 23.

If the Wildcats don’t hear their name called when the NCAA bracket is revealed, a 95-93 double-overtime loss to USC McKale Center on Feb. 29, and the three-point loss to the Trojans on Thursday night will weigh heavy on their minds.

Whatever happens on Selection Sunday, one thing is for sure: Arizona has overachieved with a 7-player lineup down the stretch. 

A month ago, most people wouldn’t have believed the Wildcats would even be on the bubble at the close of the season.

A jumper from Helena Pueyo tied the game at 32-32 with 6:09 remaining in the third quarter, and a transition layup from Courtney Blakely gave Arizona its first lead of the game at 36-34. A layup from Cunningham with 3:28 left in the quarter gave the Wildcats its largest lead of the game at 40-36.

The Trojans held a 48-44 lead after finishing the third quarter on a 12- 4 run, and opened the fourth quarter on a 8-0 run to extend its lead to 56-44.

When it appeared that fatigue was beginning to wear down Arizona’s rotation, the Wildcats clawed back, going on a 6-0 run capped off by a transition layup by Skylar Jones with 5:20 remaining to bring the Wildcats back within six of the Trojans at 56-50.

A 3 pointer from Jada Williams with 1:27 left on the clock brought Arizona within three of USC at 60-57, but a layup from USC standout JuJu Watkins with 20 seconds left put the Trojans up 63-57.

Arizona showed signs of hope for a comeback win when a 3 pointer from Pueyo with 10 seconds remaining brought Arizona back within three points, but a layup from USC’s Kaitlyn Davis put the game out of reach for the Wildcats.

Jones and Breya Cunningham had 14 points each, with Cunningham adding seven rebounds.

A 3 pointer from Pueyo midway through the first quarter cut the USC lead to seven at 15-8, and helped Arizona chip away at the early 13-0 deficit.

USC (24-5) turned the ball over 21 times on Thursday night, but Arizona was only able to turn eight first-quarter turnovers from the Trojans into five points. USC held a 20-9 lead heading into the second quarter.

Arizona went on a 12-1 run early in the second quarter capped off by a layup from Pueyo after she stole the ball from the USC rebounder on a missed jumper to bring the Wildcats within two, at 21-19, with 5:41 to go before halftime.

A layup by Cunningham tied the game at 25-25 with 2:56 left in the first half before USC closed out the quarter on a 5-0 run, and headed to the locker room with a five point lead. The Trojans 16 turnovers in the first half included 11 steals by Arizona.

Arizona had 15 steals in the game.

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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