Bennett's career-high leads Wildcats back into the winning column

Simon Asher | The Daily Wildcat Arizona's Jalea Bennett muscles her way past a New Mexico State defender during the UA-NMS game on Thursday, December 14.

Arizona women’s basketball has been in the midst of a 6-game slump, they busted out of it in a big way Thursday in the annual ‘School Day’ game as more than 7500 fans and students from local elementary and middle schools saw the Wildcats dominate the New Mexico State Aggies (Score) in McKale. The win gives Arizona their third of the season with two games left at home to wrap up the non-conference slate.

Senior Jalea Bennett was the key catalyst for the Wildcats, coming out aggressive and dropping a career-high 26 including 11 of Arizona’s first 17 to outscore NMSU single handedly in the first quarter. Her contributions were needed for a team that had struggled to find its way in the past six contests.

Simon Asher
Arizona's Jalea Bennett pounds the paint to try and score against the New Mexico State Aggies on Thursday, December 14. Bennett had 26 points, making 11-17 field goals.

“I had been doing really well in practice and so right after pre-game meal this morning Adia [Barnes] said go out there and play like you’ve been playing in practice,” Bennett said.

NMSU was held to under 31 percent shooting and struggled to find opportunities when 3-pointers weren’t dropping. The Aggies were just 3-of-19 from three in their worst shooting performance of the season. Adding to their woes were 15 turnovers and being out-rebounded 44-31 on the day. The performance defensively was statistically Arizona’s best of the season.

“We worked a lot on defense, for the past week we’ve worked on defense everyday,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “We were better on the ball, we still got beat sometimes but we had better rotation. It wasn’t perfect but it looked a lot better than it had the past couple weeks.”

In addition to Bennett, Lucia Alonso and Marlee Kyles both scored in double-figures to spur the Wildcats to victory. Every Wildcat on the roster played and scored including walk-ons Lindsey Malecha and Ali Reese. In the early part of the season the Wildcats struggled to get enough people on the court due to games being close according to Barnes. Arizona had huge production from the bench in adding 33 points to the cause.

Simon Asher
Arizona's Lindsey Malecha lays in the ball against the New Mexico State Aggies on Thursday, December 14. Malecha had five points in the game.

“It was good to have a lead because I was able to play more people…tonight they were able to play and make mistakes, so I was happy about that,” Barnes said.

Arizona was efficient offensively, able to score from the outside, hitting eight 3-pointers as well as dominate on the inside by outscoring NMSU 44-22 in the paint. 

Bennett’s performance comes at a time when the Wildcats need it most. With only two games left, she will be relied upon to help navigate the treacherous Pac-12 waters which begin with a road test at Utah and Colorado.

“It gets real, really fast, those teams [Pac-12] are really good and we don’t have a lot of depth,” Barnes said. “…It’s going to be hard, I’m not saying its impossible…the teams are all better than any of the teams that we’ve faced…we’re going to have to grow up real fast.”

In the mean time, Arizona will take on Hawaiii on Sunday in McKale before facing Southern Utah to wrap up the non-conference schedule. The game time Sunday is set for 2:00 PM.

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