Arizona women's basketball makes strides
Arizona women’s basketball lost two more games over the weekend, but there were positive moments in those games that the Wildcats can learn from.
After the first media timeout, with 14:59 to play in the first half against then-No. 4 Stanford, Arizona was still in the game, only down 15-11 due to its stingy defense.
The Wildcats battled to keep the game within single digits by trying to deny Chiney Ogwumike, who is ranked third-highest in the country, averaging 27.1 points per game.
“We wanted to limit her touches,” senior forward Erica Barnes said about Ogwumike, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds in Friday’s game. “Obviously, she was getting the majority of her points in the paint.”
Carlos Herrera / The Daily Wildcat Freshman forward LaBrittney Jones shoots a jump shot during the Arizona's 79-64 loss to Cal on Monday. The UA played Cal close after getting blown out Friday.
Arizona had some success early by using a combination of Barnes and freshman forward LaBrittney Jones guarding her in the paint and then making her dish the ball out to the perimeter.
“Our goal was to force them to shoot contested shots,” head coach Niya Butts said after the 96-52 Stanford loss. “When we forced them to shoot contested shots or put the ball on the floor, they didn’t do as well offensively.”
Stanford’s outside shooting heated up, and it outscored Arizona 37-20 the rest of the way before halftime. Stanford would go on to shoot 47 percent from beyond the arc.
The Wildcats tried a 2-3 zone for the majority of the game, but Stanford’s outside shooting made them pay.
“It was kind of picking your poison,” Butts said. “Do you either want them to move the ball, and use the shot clock and shoot the contested three? Or do you want to give up a quick two by only using six seconds on the shot clock?”
Arizona only suited eight for the game and couldn’t use a lot of man-to-man defense.
“We are very limited on what we can do defensively, since we have a couple players that we can only play for a few minutes at a time,” Butts said. “We thought we would get into foul trouble in other defensive sets, which is actually very scary for us.”
Jones is one of those players whose minutes need to be monitored, as she is coming off an ACL injury suffered during her senior season in high school.
On Monday, Arizona was able to make adjustments against then-No. 19 California, which featured a power forward in Reshanda Gray, who shares some similarities with Ogwumike. Arizona put more pressure on the perimeter, forced more contested shots and didn’t let the Bears get comfortable shooting 3-pointers.
Arizona held Gray to five points in the first half. Freshman forward Breanna Workman and Barnes made it a priority to deny Gray inside or swarm her if she caught the ball deep down low, and then make her force it out to the perimeter.
Gray picked up her play in the second half by scoring 15 points, however.
“I’m sure the coach was looking at the stat sheet just like we were, and just challenged her to come out in the second half and be a little bit more aggressive,” Butts said after the 79-64 loss to Cal.
Gray did better in the second half, but most of her points came when Arizona’s two primary post defenders, Workman and Barnes, were in foul trouble.
In terms of doing a better job defending the 3-pointer, Cal shot 28.6 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
Cal was only able to make four 3-pointers for the game and none after 10:53 in the first half.
“We were playing a lot more aggressive on them at the 3-point line in the second half and not giving them any room to work with,” Barnes said.
Having said all that, Arizona is still looking for its first conference win heading into this weekend’s games.
Getting better from one game to the next is a promising sign for a 4-13 team and bodes well for the future.
—Follow Tyler Keckeisen @tyler_keckeisen