On Sunday afternoon, perhaps the Pac-12 game of the year thus far was played in McKale Center.
The Wildcats were on the losing end of a triple-overtime thriller, losing to UCLA 98-93. According to Arizona Athletics, the last time there was a triple-overtime game in Pac-12 league play was the 2000-2001 season.
“I thought they showed grit, they showed passion, they did everything I asked. They played with heart, so I’m not disappointed in that. It’s not gonna be a negative talk in the locker room,” head coach Adia Barnes said of her team's performance. “We made mistakes, but they are fixable mistakes.”
At the end of the first quarter, the Wildcats trailed UCLA 16-14. Arizona came out hot, hitting both of its first two three-point attempts, but after that, both teams traded buckets for much of the quarter.
At halftime, the Wildcats were up 33-30. After starting out 2-2 from three, the ‘Cats would miss their next six three-point attempts, but two big and-ones from redshirt sophomore Aari McDonald and senior Tee Tee Starks would give the Wildcats the energy they would need to build a three-point halftime lead.
The third quarter was a deadlock, with both teams scoring 17 points, keeping the Wildcat lead at three heading into the fourth.
The game was close the whole way, but especially in the fourth quarter and the overtimes. With 1:45 left in the fourth quarter, sophomore Sam Thomas blocked a UCLA shot attempt, then the Wildcats went down the other way, and junior Lucia Alonso drilled a 3, putting the ‘Cats up 59-58.
In the overtime periods, McDonald showed just how important she was to this Wildcat team, hitting big shot after big shot. With seconds left in the second overtime, she hit a game-tying 3, sending the game into its third overtime. Then, to open up the third overtime, she hit a 3 to put the ‘Cats ahead again. Earlier, she had a big and-one layup to give the ‘Cats a lead.
McDonald would go on to finish with almost a triple-double: 35 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists. Freshman Cate Reese also finished with a double-double, posting 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“I like the way my team fought despite the outcome,” McDonald said. “We definitely have things to work on, but i’m definitely proud of my team. We showed a lot of fight, we showed a lot of leadership and togetherness, and we didn’t quit, so I really love that about my team.”
One of the biggest problems for Arizona tonight was the offensive rebounding. The Wildcats were out-rebounded 27-13 on the offensive glass, which lead to second-chance points for the Bruins, especially for sophomore Michaela Onyenwere.
“Seven offensive [rebounds], I bet she probably converted on six of them,” Barnes said. “We just couldn’t find a way to box her out, and when we did, she still out jumped us, so I felt like we just have to do a better job of that.”
Another major problem for the ‘Cats was the free-throw shooting disparity between the teams. The Bruins were 28-35 from the stripe, 80 percent, whereas the Wildcats were 11-27, 41 percent, and missed some crucial free throws down the stretch.
“We’ve never missed this many free throws as a team,” McDonald said. “So, just something we have to work on. Just gotta focus, take our time. We’ll be fine next game.”
The Wildcats now look ahead to Feb. 1, when they will take on Arizona State, in Tempe, at 6 p.m.
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