Arizona Women's Basketball

Helena Pueyo after ending Arizona career: “Going to be a Wildcat forever”

With fifth-year senior leader Helena Pueyo standing nearby, freshman Jada Williams knows what it means to be one of Arizona’s leaders (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona wishes it was not Fair.

For Syracuse, it was Fair enough.

Syracuse All-American Dyaisha Fair scored 13 of her 32 points in the fourth quarter, including a personal 11-0 run late that gave the Orange the lead for good in a 74-69 win Saturday in the NCAA Tournament first-round game at Storrs, Conn.

The Wildcats ended their improbable March Madness run — competing with seven scholarship players in the last month of the season — with an 18-16 record.

They endured injuries and defections by two of its leading scorers — Maya Nnaji and Kailyn Gilbert — to come very close to reaching the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament.

“Arizona is an incredible team, seven, eight players — it felt like 19 of them out there,” Syracuse coach Felicia Legette-Jack said. “They just left it on the line. They wanted it for their story.”

Arizona’s story is still a captivating one after some suggested that the Wildcats would be better served by playing more home games in the WBIT rather than experiencing a potential early exit in the NCAA tournament.

“We had opportunities to win, but credit to them, they took us out of our rhythm,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “Their zone really disrupted us. Congratulations to Syracuse.

“I just don’t think we should hang our heads because we had seven players and we fought and we had chances to win. So I’m proud of our team.”

The storied careers of fifth-year seniors Helena Pueyo and Esmery Martinez came to an end but much promise for Barnes and the program in the years ahead with freshmen Jada Williams, Breya Cunningham and Skylar Jones leading the way.

Jones had a career-high 24 points along with producing six rebounds and five assists to lead Arizona against Syracuse (24-7).

“Just the whole experience, and really my seniors because they’re the reason I got here because in the beginning of the season I was kind of nervous,” Jones said when asked what she will take from the experience at Storrs. “I wasn’t driving, shooting, doing anything. So they really got on my butt about it, and coach gave me the confidence to do what I’m doing now.

“All of my teammates, my freshmen teammates, they’re playing so much better now. We’re such a cohesive group. That’s what I’ll take into it because we need to have a team that’s just as cohesive and probably go farther next year.”

Williams struggled from the field, shooting 3 of 14 (2 of 9 from 3-point range), but she finished with 13 points.

Pueyo had 14 points, seven rebounds, two assists and four steals.

She finished her career with 312 steals, the most in Arizona history and fifth-most in Pac-12 annals. She had a school-record 110 steals this year.

“It’s hard right now, but I never wanted this moment to end,” Pueyo said. “I learned so much from Coach Adia, from Coach Salvo (Coppa), from all the coaches. This is my family. They’re always going to be my family. I’m always going to be a Wildcat forever. I’m going to miss them, and I’m going to support them.

“It is what it is. I’m really sad now, but I’m just going to keep working and keep playing basketball.”

Martinez had seven points, seven rebounds and five steals before fouling out with 1:04 left in the game.

Arizona had to battle through foul trouble again after surviving in Thursday’s 69-59 win over Auburn in the First Four game.

Martinez was assessed her fourth foul in the third quarter and Cunningham’s time was limited because of three fouls by early in the third quarter.

The Wildcats led the entire game until 8:42 remained when Syracuse’s Kennedi Perkins made a jumper in the lane to give the Orange a 53-51 lead.

This occurred after Fair was carried off the court at the end of the third quarter after it appeared she suffered a lower-leg injury.

“I knew once I felt good, I knew I was able to go,” said Fair, who indicated she suffered a “twisted knee” when she went up for a shot. “In the back of my mind, my team is still counting on me. If I can go, I’ll go. I’m counting on me, and so was everyone watching and my family. So that was the mindset to get back out there.”

Syracuse rallied back from a nine-point deficit in the second quarter because of its offensive rebounding and playmaking ability of Fair.

The Orange, taking advantage of Martinez and Cunningham’s foul problems, finished with 17 offensive rebounds that led to 13 second-chance points.

Arizona went on a 7-2 run, highlighted by a steal and layup and 3-pointer by Pueyo, to take a 60-57 lead with 6:04 left.

Cunningham’s layup increased Arizona’s lead to 64-59 with 3:59 left. She finished with eight points and six rebounds in 21 minutes.

Arizona took a 66-61 lead after two free throws by Williams with 3:16 left.

Fair took over and Arizona struggled the rest of the way.

Syracuse took advantange of turnovers and fouls to go on a 11-0 run all behind Fair’s scoring in that span.

Her two free throws with 32 seconds remaining put the Orange ahead 72-66.

“(Fair) took over the game when it mattered, and that’s what stars do,” Barnes said. “That’s what All-Americans do. That’s what pros do. They take it over in the moment when their team needs it.”

Pueyo ended the dryspell with a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left but Fair responded with two free throws with 18 seconds left that capped the scoring.

Three attempts from 3-point range by Williams all bounced off the rim before the final buzzer sounded.

“I think we gave everything we had 100 percent,” Pueyo said. “I’m just really proud of them. I’m proud of my team, and I think they’re going to be great next year. They’ve just got to keep working.”

Barnes reflected on Pueyo’s development at Arizona in her five years with the program.

She took advantage of her freshman season of 2019-20 affected by COVID-19 to play this season.

“I’m so happy that coming back she raised her stock,” Barnes said. “She’s going to be able to go to a WNBA camp and hopefully make a team. If not, she’s going to be a star in Europe. I’m just proud of her and her growth, but that’s what coaching is about. That’s what being a coach is about.

“You’re never going to win enough games. You’re probably going to get fired one day. And that’s what we signed up for. When you watch the growth of these kids and watch them graduate, and she’s fluent in English and talking in press conferences. She would have been terrified her first year. You watch that process and you’re a part of something special in a young woman’s life, it’s impactful.”

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
To Top