Arizona Women's Basketball

Arizona vs. Auburn in First Four classic Pac-12 vs. SEC matchup of speed against physicality

Arizona’s Jada Williams looks to pass in the Wildcats’ practice Wednesday ahead of their First Four game Thursday against Auburn (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona vs. Auburn in the First Four game at Storrs, Conn., on Thursday is a matchup of speed on defense for the Wildcats and a physical style of basketball from the Tigers.

The game between Arizona (17-15) and Auburn (20-11) as No. 11 seeds is at 4 p.m., Tucson time, on Thursday.

They are trying to advance to the first round of the NCAA Tournament to play No. 6 Syracuse on Saturday.

The Portland 3 Regional games are at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion at UConn.

“It’s funny, watching film, the SEC is really physical, a lot more physical than I think the Pac-12 allows us to play,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said during Wednesday’s press conference. “I think the Pac-12 is a lot more tactical, strategic. The SEC is athletes, physical, tough, big. I look at everybody’s just bodies, and I’m just like, wow.

“I think we do a lot of things well, and looking at a lot of games, they haven’t faced some of the things we do defensively.”

Barnes also mentioned that although the SEC is a “super talented league top to bottom, very athletic, big, strong” it is not as aggressive with its on-ball defense as she sees in the Pac-12.

“If you’re really aggressive, you would be aggressive on the on-balls, but most of them contain on on-balls,” she said. “Some may hedge but most contain. But they’re really aggressively defensively in every other area.”

Auburn (20-11) vs. Arizona (17-15)

  • NCAA First Four game between No. 11 seeds.
  • When: Thursday at 4 p.m., Tucson time.
  • Where: Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.
  • How to Watch on TV: ESPN2
  • How to listen on Radio: KCUB 1290-AM and Varsity Network

Arizona’s defensive stats are similar to those of Auburn although the Wildcats average more steals a game than the Tigers. Arizona is at 11.6 steals per game while Auburn is at 10.4.

Auburn averages 37.1 rebounds a game while Arizona is at 32.5.

If its last game is any indication, Arizona should be confident.

The Tigers lost 78-48 LSU in the SEC tournament two weeks ago while Arizona took USC to the limit in a 65-62 loss in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals a couple of weeks ago.

LSU is a No. 3 seed in the Albany 2 Regional while USC is the top seed in the Portland 3 Regional.

“Obviously the Pac-12 is tough, so playing those teams earlier, we know that we’re going to have to bring it,” Auburn coach Johnnie Harris said, referring to the Tigers playing Cal and Washington State at home.

The Tigers lost to Cal 67-53 on Nov. 17 and they beat Washington State 69-62 on Dec. 20.

Auburn Top Players

  • G Honesty Scott-Grayson: 17.4 PTS, 1.4 STL, 41.5 FG%, 30.4 3PT% (38-for-125)
  • G JaMya Mingo-Young: 8.9 PTS, 1.6 STL, 38 FG%, 35.9 3PT% (14-for-39)
  • F Taylen Collins: 8 PTS, 1.6 STL, 43.1 FG%
  • G Mar’shaun Bostic: 5.7 PTS, 1.7 STL, 41 FG%
  • G Sydney Shaw: 6.8 PTS, 35.1 FG%, 34 3PT% (35-for-103)

Arizona Top Players

  • G Helena Pueyo: 9.4 PTS, 3.2 STL, 46.9 FG%, 36.1 3PT% (35-for-97)
  • F Esmery Martinez: 11.1 PTS, 1.8 STL, 42.2 FG%, 23.1 3PT% (15-for-65)
  • F Breya Cunningham: 7.8 PTS, 1.8 BLK, 51.4 FG%
  • G Jada Williams: 9.2 PTS, 1.1 STL, 36.1 FG%, 27.2 3PT% (28-for-103)
  • G Skylar Jones: 6.4 PTS, 2.1 REB, 1.2 STL

“I do think their team (Arizona) is very similar to us,” Harris added. “We haven’t really played a team like this, so that may be a little bit of a challenge. We’ve been able to watch some film, and we are very similar.

“I really feel like if we come in and do what we do best, we’ll have a good chance in this ballgame.”

Arizona averages 69.9 points compared to Auburn’s 66.6. The Wildcats allow 65.8 points a game while Auburn’s opponents are at 58.5.

The Wildcats turn the ball over 14.9 times a game and the Tigers are at 15.3.

“We know that they play a brand of defense kind of similar to ours,” Auburn’s Honesty Scott-Grayson said. “We know they’re real aggressive, so I feel like it’s all going to be about a game of turnovers.”

Arizona fifth-year senior Helena Pueyo, who had 19 points in the loss to USC two weeks ago in the Pac-12 tournament, mentioned the Wildcats have to “be smart.”

“I think they’re a really aggressive team,” Pueyo said of Auburn. “I think we’ve just got to be smart. They’re going to be on the night the whole time so we’ve just got to be smart and run the right plays.” 


“I feel like the main thing is making sure everybody remains level headed because it is such a big stage, a big platform that you’re put at, especially with these freshmen it being their first time. I feel like what we can do is keep everybody calm, keep the nerves down because I know they’re going to be up.” — Collins

“We all know that this is a one-and-done type of deal, so we try not to even think about it like that. We just go out there, give it our all, and come out with the win and move on to the next one.” — Scott-Grayson

“You coach with a little bit different edge because it’s one-and-done now, and you hope they practice that way and they follow your lead. That’s kind of what we’ve been doing. That’s kind of how I lean on my experience, and that’s what has worked for me and the teams that I’ve coached.” — Harris, in her fifth year at Auburn (first time in NCAA tournament as head coach) with stints as an assistant at Mississippi State, Texas, Texas A&M and Arkansas among other schools.


“We have had a lot of challenges, but at the end of the day, we’ve just got to come together. It is what it is. We have who we have (seven scholarship players), and I think that’s where we have been doing this the whole year. We’re going to show people how tough is our conference. We’re just ready. We’re seven players, but we’re just going to go for it.” — Pueyo

“I feel because we have a young team, a lot of transfers, we really had a tough time with everything this season, but at the end of the day, we become together, we become resilient and support each other. If somebody is hurt, we try and give them rehab because we’re only seven players, and we will try to come together to play hard and be there for each other.” — Martinez

“I was joking about this before. I said, a couple years ago, I had 15 players, and I remember at the end of the season, I said, ‘I will never have 15 players again.’ It’s so many, because 10 people are really upset and five people don’t really have a chance to play. Towards the end of this year, I said, ‘I will never have just 10 players or 11 because of injuries.'” — Barnes


  • Auburn’s best win of the season by far was the 67-62 victory over LSU on Jan. 14 at Auburn.
  • The Tigers are 2-8 against Quadrant 1 teams.
  • The Tigers outscore opponents by 8.1 points per game, scoring 66.6 points per game to rank 147th nationally while allowing 58.5 per outing to rank 54th.
  • Auburn allowed 55.4 points per game at home this season, compared to 62.1 when playing on the road.
  • The Tigers have seen an increase in scoring recently, at 67.3 points per game in their last 10 games, 0.7 points more than the 66.6 they average this year.
  • Auburn is making its 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance and first under Harris
  • Auburn is 30-21 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and has been national runner-up three times (1988, 1989, 1990).
  • This is Auburn’s third trip to Connecticut for an NCAA Tournament; the Tigers visited Storrs in 1994 and Bridgeport in 2004.
  • Auburn is 1-0 all-time against Arizona, 5-0 all-time vs. Syracuse, 1-4 vs. Connecticut and 3-2 vs. Jackson State. The teams previously met Dec. 19, 2000, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Auburn won 69-66.
  • The Tigers had not faced a Pac-12 school since 2013 before playing Cal on Nov. 17. Now, they will play at least three in one season.
  • Auburn’s defense held SEC opponents an average of 11.4 points below their season scoring average
  • Auburn is 17-1 this season when shooting at least 40 percent from the field; 3-10 when they are below that mark.
  • The Tigers lead the SEC and are 15th in the nation in turnover margin (+5.6).
  • Auburn averages 21.4 points off turnovers per game; the Tigers are 14-2 when scoring at least 20 points off turnovers
  • Three of the four largest women’s basketball crowds in Neville Arena history have come this season
  • Collins leads Auburn in rebounds (6.4 a game) and has three double-doubles this season, including a season-high 19 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Kentucky..


  • The Wildcats’ top win: Easy — they defeated then No. 5-ranked Stanford, 68-61, at Palo Alto, Calif., on Feb. 23.
  • Symbolic of its difficult schedule, Arizona is 3-14 (.176%) against Quadrant 1 teams.
  • The Wildcats are putting up 68.5 points per game over their last 10 games, which is 1.4 fewer points than their average for the season (69.9).
  • Arizona will play in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth-straight season and is one of just 19 teams in this
  • Arizona is in its fourth straight NCAA tournament after not making March Mardness from 2005 to 2021.
  • The Wildcats are 7-3 in NCAA Tournament games under Adia Barnes.
  • Arizona ranks 22nd nationally in opponent turnovers, forcing 19.7 per game. Opponents have turned the ball over 629 times this year.
  • Arizona ranks sixth nationally in steals per game with 11.6. The Wildcats have tallied 370 total team steals, the second-most in a season in program history.
  • Four Arizona players have experience in the NCAA Tournament: Isis Beh, Courtney Blakely, Martinez and Pueyo (the only remaining Wildcat from the 2021 run to the NCAA championship game).
  • Pueyo ranks sixth among active DI players in career steals with 305, a number that puts her at first in program history and sixth in Pac-12 history.
  • Breya Cunningham‘s 58 blocks this year are the fifth-most by a player in a single season in program history. She is averaging 1.8 blocks per games, one of five freshmen in the country averaging at least that many.
  • Pueyo is averaging 3.2 steals per game, the 11th-most nationally. Her 103 steals this year make her the first Pac-12 player since Jordin Canada in 2017-18 with at least 100 steals in a season. Pueyo is averaging 36.6 minutes per game, one of 23 players nationally to play that many. She is on pace to rank fifth in program history in average minutes played in a single season.
  • Martinez is fourth among active DI players in career rebounds with 1,253. She is the only active DI player with 1,500-plus points, 1,200-plus rebounds, 200-plus assists, 200-plus steals and 100-plus blocks in her career.
  • Williams leads the Wildcats with a free-throw percentage of 84.9.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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