TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)COVID-19 issues within its own program and throughout the Pac-12 Conference caused No. 4 Arizona to go three weeks between games. Add in missing two starters, and the Wildcats were far from 100% in their return to the court.
And it showed. Arizona needed a dominant third quarter and Cate Reese’s 20 points to hold off Washington State 60-52 on Friday night in its Pac-12 opener.
It was the 100th victory for Wildcats coach Adia Barnes, and it came as Arizona reached 11-0 for the second time in three seasons. But if not for that big third period, the result could have been different.
Arizona outscored WSU 23-7 in the third quarter but was outscored 45-37 in the other three quarters.
”I don’t think we were in game shape,” said Barnes, who was without forward Lauren Ware (knee) and guard Shaina Pellington (undisclosed). ”Unfortunately, this is our new reality. I’m extremely proud of our team, they showed resiliency tonight.”
Reese, a senior forward, was 8 of 14 from the field and moved into 10th on the school career scoring list with 1,306 points. She added seven rebounds and three steals.
Krystal Legler-Walker led WSU (9-5, 1-2) with 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
WSU led 24-23 at halftime, outscoring Arizona 19-10 in the second quarter. The Wildcats retook the lead on a Reese layup midway through the third quarter and then used a 15-0 run to build a 46-31 edge going into the fourth quarter. The run included a 4-point play from Madi Conner, a 3-point play from Reese and 3-pointers from Helena Pueyo and Sam Thomas.
The Cougars, who went scoreless for the final 4:47 of the third, scored the first six points of the fourth to get within nine. A 3-pointer by Krystal Legler-Walker cut the deficit to 53-49 with 1:23 to go, and younger sister Charlisse Legler-Walker drained a 3-pointer with 47.8 seconds remaining to pull within 54-52.
”I think our team’s pretty gritty,” WSU coach Kamie Ethridge said. ”I loved the way we battled, I love the way our kids competed.”
But the comeback was halted when Ethridge was called for a technical foul with 41.7 seconds left. It happened after guard Johanna Teder fouled Arizona’s Thomas, something Ethridge didn’t want her team to do, and her reaction caused an official to T her up.
”I made a mistake as a coach to get that technical,” Ethridge said. ”It certainly wasn’t directed at the official.”
Thomas made three of four free throws, then Reese sealed the win with a layup with 26.2 seconds left to make it 59-52. Thomas finished with eight points, six rebounds and a career-high eight assists.
”She’s always there,” Pueyo, who had a season-high 12 points and was 3 of 4 from 3-point range, said of Thomas.
Arizona held WSU scoreless for the almost the first four minutes of the game, with the Cougars missing 10 of their first 11 shots. They hit eight of their next 13, including a 3-pointer by Teder to give WSU its first lead at 24-21 with 46 seconds left in the first half.
Washington State: The Cougars dropped to 0-5 all-time against teams ranked in the AP top 5. Three of those have come this season, with WSU losing 62-34 to No. 5 North Carolina State in the Bahamas in November and 82-44 at home to No. 2 Stanford on Jan. 2.
Arizona: The Wildcats honored the greatest player in school history after the game, inducting Aari McDonald to the Ring of Honor. McDonald, now playing for the Atlanta Dream in the WNBA, led Arizona to the NCAA title game in April and was a two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and was the league’s Player of the Year in 2020-21.
Washington State: At USC on Jan. 14. The Cougars’ scheduled game at Arizona State on Sunday was postponed because of the Sun Devils’ COVID-19 issues.
Arizona: At USC on Sunday, making up a game that was originally scheduled for Dec. 31 but postponed due to the Trojans’ COVID-19 issues.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25