In front of 10,000-plus, Wildcats advance to WNIT Championship game
Aari McDonald (2) is all smiles with teammates Cate Reese, Bryce Nixon and Tee Tee Starks after their victory over TCU on Wednesday, April 3rd to advance to the WNIT championship game.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Can’t guard <a href="https://twitter.com/AariMcdonald?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AariMcdonald</a>. She’s up to 15 and TCU needs another timeout! <a href="https://t.co/xqI6bVyKuY">pic.twitter.com/xqI6bVyKuY</a></p>— Arizona Women's Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) <a href="https://twitter.com/ArizonaWBB/status/1113635096169304064?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 4, 2019</a></blockquote>
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On Wednesday night, Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball, together with the Tucson Community, made history. A program record 10,135 fans came out to McKale to support the Wildcats, and they got to see something special.
For the first time since 1996, the Wildcats will play in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament championship game, after defeating TCU in a tight one 59-53.
Throughout the season, head coach Adia Barnes said that a WNIT Championship was a catalyst for program success when she was a player, beating none other than Northwestern. Now, this years ‘Cats have put themselves in position to do the same.
“I think their mindset is ‘we gotta find a way,'"Barnes said. “They won’t be satisfied with anything but winning.”
The final minutes of play may have been the most intense all season. The Wildcats led comfortably for the first 35 minutes of action, but TCU started hitting its shots down the stretch. With about a minute left, the Horned Frogs closed their deficit to five.
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That's when the Wildcats closed the door. Redshirt junior Dominique McBryde hit a pair of free throws to put the ‘Cats up seven. Then, after TCU went to the line and went 1-2, McBryde grabbed an offensive rebound on the other end and went to the line yet again, hitting both and putting the ‘Cats up eight. From there, it was enough of a cushion to put Arizona in the championship game.
The game came to an end when sophomore Sam Thomas blocked a TCU jumper, her fourth block on the night, before dribbling out the clock.
“She has the longest wingspan I’ve ever seen,” McBryde said of her teammate. “She’s been doing this all season long, she’s been doing it since her freshman year.”
Aari McDonald finished 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals, scoring timely baskets when the ‘Cats needed them most. McBryde finished 13 points, six rebounds, and three assists, including the clutch free throws, finishing 6-6 from the stripe.
In the first quarter, the Wildcats went down 6-2 early, but an 8-0 run after that put the ‘Cats in the lead, and they finished the quarter with a three-point lead, 12-9. The defense from Arizona in the quarter could be described in one simple word: stifling. UA forced the Frogs into six turnovers and two shot clock violations, making TCU earn everything.
In the second, Arizona continued to play good defense, but got the scoring to go along with it, going on a 12-0 run that included four 3-pointers, holding TCU scoreless for six and a half minutes. The Frogs would answer with a run of their own in the waning minutes of the half, scoring six unanswered to tighten the gap, but the Wildcats still led 29-23 heading into the locker room.
At halftime, the Wildcats had forced 11 TCU turnovers, giving the ball away only three times. From beyond the arc, the Wildcats were shooting 41 percent from three, holding the Horned Frogs to just 23 percent.
The third quarter was a tight contest on both sides of the ball, with the Wildcats ending the quarter outscoring the Frogs, 11-10. In the last 2:45, however, the ‘Cats were held scoreless, with TCU taking their time offensively and in response, Arizona trying to up the intensity on offense and committing some turnovers.
The Wildcats will host Northwestern in the WNIT Championship game on Saturday, April 6, at 12 p.m. This time, Barnes is asking for a sellout in the McKale stands.
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