TOP-STORY

The road ends here: WNIT Final Four preview

1-1-2-copy
Lexi Horsey | The Daily Wildcat Arizona's senior forward, Tee Tee Starks playing defense in the game against the Pacific Tigers on Sunday, March 24, 2019. The final score of the game was 64-48, a win for the Wildcats.

With its win over Wyoming on Sunday, Arizona women’s basketball is headed to the Final Four of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament for the first time since 1996. Here are three things that were key in the Wildcats’ win over the Cowgirls:

1: The emotion and play of Cate Reese

While she’s been bringing it all season, the McDonald’s All-American freshman seems to have kicked it into another gear in the WNIT. She opened up the tournament with a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double and finished the game vs. Wyoming one rebound short of another, with 13 points and nine rebounds. From hustling up and down the court to flexing after a strong and-one basket to thrashing around trying to win the ball in a tie up, Reese has brought an intensity and ferocity to the postseason. Although she’s just a freshman, her emotion on the court seems to inspire and energize her teammates.

RELATED: Wildcats overpower Wyoming en route to WNIT Final Four

2: Defense wins championships

Coming into the game, Wyoming was second in the nation in 3-point percentage. The Wildcats held it to 2-12 from beyond the arc, or 16.7 percent, with the two made 3s coming late in the fourth quarter. On the season, the Cowgirls were shooting 46 percent from the field, but the Wildcats held them to 31 percent. There were also only two players on Wyoming that had more than six points, so to say the Wildcats were clamping up on defense would be an understatement.


Tee Tee Starks (center) gets hyped with teammates Cate Reese (left) and Sam Thomas (right) after a crucial play in the second half vs Idaho. 


3: Record crowds

Tucson was out in full force on Sunday afternoon, with the official attendance announced at 7,717, the most for Arizona women’s basketball since 2016. To put that into perspective, the record for attendance in the program’s history is 8,442. The crowd was loud throughout the game, as head coach Adia Barnes and the players both credited the crowd for inspiring them and picking them up when the going got a little rough. 

For the previous matchup against Idaho, Barnes asked for 5,000 fans to be in attendance. She got 6,307. For the game against Wyoming, she asked for 7,000. Now, for the Final Four matchup against TCU, she’s asking for 10,000. Soon enough, McKale might not be big enough to hold the amount of people waiting to see Barnes and company.


Including the ‘Cats, there are now just four teams left in the field of teams in the WNIT. Here’s a look at the other three, starting with their opponent Wednesday night, TCU:

TCU

Tournament Wins: Prairie View A&M, UT Arlington, Arkansas, Cincinnati

TCU comes to McKale with a 24-10 record and boasting three 14-point wins in the WNIT. The Horned Frogs’ leading scorer on the season is senior center Jordan Moore, who is averaging 14 points per game in the postseason. She has not been held under 50 percent from the field and has two double-doubles in the four postseason games. Senior forward Amy Okonkwo is averaging 20 points per game in the WNIT, including a 26-point, 14-rebound performance in TCU’s four-point win over Arkansas.


Arizona Women's Basketball head coach Adia Barnes talks to her players during the second half of the Sweet Sixteen game vs Idaho on Thursday, March 28 at McKale Center. 


James Madison

Tournament Wins: North Carolina A&T, South Florida, Virginia Tech, Georgetown

Hosting Northwestern on the other side of the bracket, the Dukes also have three double-digit wins in the tournament and head into their Final Four matchup with a 29-5 record. Their leading scorer, Kamiah Smalls, has only played in three of the four WNIT games but has tallied point totals of 17, 16 and 13. Redshirt junior Jackie Benitez is averaging 16 points per game in the postseason.

Northwestern

Tournament Wins: Dayton, Toledo, West Virginia, Ohio

Northwestern enters the Final Four with wins in different fashions. After beating Dayton by 23, its highest margin of victory was seven points, with its last two wins decided by five points combined. Sophomore Lindsey Pulliam is averaging 20 points per game, while senior Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah opened up the tournament with a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double. Other than the two, the Wildcats don’t have a player averaging double digit points on the season.


Follow Noah Auclair on Twitter


Share this article