Arizona Women's Basketball

Experience with energy: Fifth-year senior Pueyo & freshman Williams lead Arizona to First Four win

Helena Pueyo scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half in Arizona’s win over Auburn (Arizona Athletics photo)

Bill Bixby said that legendary line in the TV series “The Incredible Hulk” in the 1970s: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Jada Williams mentioned something similar about fifth-year senior guard Helena Pueyo, who took over the First Four game Thursday night against Auburn by scoring eight of her 16 points in the fourth quarter of Arizona’s 69-59 win at Storrs, Conn.

“Things started getting chippy, so when I see Helena point at somebody … you get Helena mad, I think it’s over for you,” Williams said with a laugh during the postgame press conference.

The No. 11 Wildcats withstood a late charge by fellow 11th-seed Auburn and survived foul trouble to their post players throughout to pull out the win behind a balanced effort led by Williams and Pueyo.

Arizona (18-15) advances to play No. 6 Syracuse (23-7) at 12:30 p.m., Tucson time, on Saturday in the Round of 64 game at Storrs.

Pueyo fueled Arizona’s ability to hold off Auburn after starting post player Breya Cunningham fouled out with 7:37 left and the Wildcats leading 52-43.

Esmery Martinez and Isis Beh also played the entire fourth quarter with four fouls each.

Auburn cut the lead to 58-53 with 4:37 left but Pueyo then matched the Tigers with two baskets to keep the lead to at least five points with 2:25 remaining.

“We’re all a product of her,” Williams continued about Pueyo. “We know she has the ability to do that. She’s a fighter.”

After Auburn’s Honesty Scott-Grayson fouled out with almost 2 minutes left, Arizona took control.

Scott-Grayson was the only Tiger to score in double figures with 13 points.

Auburn, which was limited to 39.7 percent shooting from the field while committing 23 turnovers, did not score in the last 1:57 of the game.

In that span, Skylar Jones made a layup, Williams converted a free throw and Pueyo knocked down two free throws with 45 seconds left to cap the scoring.

Williams led Arizona with 17 points behind her 8-of-11 performance at the free-throw line.

Jones, a fellow freshman, had 13 points, four rebounds and three steals. She made 4 of 8 shots from the field and 5 of 7 from the free-throw line.

“To show up like this, 13 for 18 from the free-throw line and combine for 30 points as freshmen on the biggest stage is pretty impressive,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “I’m just excited to see how they’re going to be throughout their career if they’re doing this as freshmen. Proud of them.”

Martinez finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and a season-high five steals despite playing in foul trouble throughout the second half.

“That does limit us,” Barnes said of the foul trouble with Martinez, Beh and Cunningham. “I think just us learning how the game is being called and being smarter is very important. So like talking to Breya, she’s a freshman, when you have to, you can’t go for that block. … If you’re late on something, it’s better just to contain versus getting a third foul, because then we have to sit her.”

Cunningham and Beh each were called for their third foul in the second quarter, but Arizona still managed to take a 27-19 halftime lead.

The difference early — Arizona never trailed in the game — was the Wildcats’ quickness on defense that helped force 17 turnovers by Auburn by halftime that led to 14 points for Arizona.

An important stretch of the first half was Arizona starting the second quarter on a 9-2 run that put the Wildcats ahead 20-10 with 6:13 left until halftime.

Auburn responded with six unanswered points to cut the lead to 20-16.

After Beh took a seat with her third foul with 2:10 left, Arizona scored the last four points of the half.

Auburn did not make a shot in the last 3:54 of the half, frustrated by Arizona’s defense.

“I thought they sped us up,” Auburn coach Johnnie Harris said. “We had a lot of very unforced turnovers. … Some of them (turnovers) were forced. They were up in the passing lane. They were up in us.”

Following many of those turnovers, that led to 23 points for Arizona, Williams made Auburn pay by attacking the basket.

She struggled from the field, shooting 4 of 13 (1 of 6 from 3-point range), but she made 8 of 11 from the free-throw line.

“I feel Jada is the type of person that brings energy on the court and outside the court,” Martinez said. “She tries to go all out and give us all some energy.”

Jada Williams had a team-high 17 points in her first NCAA tournament game (Arizona Athletics photo)

Barnes has won every first game of the NCAA tournament in the Wildcats’ four consecutive berths in March Madness.

Much of that is due to the starting point guards — Aari McDonald, Shaina Pellington and now Williams.

The significant difference is McDonald (2021) and Pellington (2022 and 2023) were seasoned veterans. Williams is a freshman.

“We’re not just happy to be here,” Williams said. “I think we talked about that before the game with our strength coach Chris (Rounds). We’re not just happy to be here. A lot of teams might be, but we’re here to make a statement and make a run, and we are going to keep fighting until the end.”

Martinez added with a smile, “Yeah, she’s right.”

Williams and Martinez then stood up and left the press conference room.

The game against Syracuse is less than 48 hours away.

“I think that we feel that we can play with anybody, at any time,” Barnes said. “We get prepared for that because it’s tough every weekend in the Pac-12. So we don’t care if it’s an SEC school, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, we’re ready.

“That’s the good thing about starting three freshmen (Williams, Cunningham and Jones), is they don’t know what to expect so don’t know what to be nervous for.”

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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