Women's basketball makes statement, beats USC in first round of Pac-12 Tournament

Madeleine Viceconte | The Daily Wildcat Forward Cate Reese (25) jumps to block USC's Aliyah Mazyck in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on Thursday, March 7 at the Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Arizona beat USC 76-48.

LAS VEGAS – Coming off a four-game losing streak, No. 8 seeded Arizona women’s basketball didn’t seem as though it was going to – or was even capable of – making any noise in the Pac-12 Tournament. On Thursday afternoon, the Wildcats sent a message to the rest of the Pac-12 with a complete team victory over the No. 9 seeded USC Trojans 76-48 in MGM Grand Garden Arena. 

“I’m really proud of our team today,” head coach Adia Barnes said. “We came out with a level of intensity that I expected from this team.”

Even in the midst of the previous losing streak, Barnes highlighted a silver lining that not many would have been able to find.

“I told them, we’re playing our best basketball right now,” Barnes said. “That’s not evident because we had the gauntlet the last four games of the regular season. We were competing, and we had chance to win those games.”

Forward Sam Thomas (14) goes to shoot the ball during the game against USC in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on Thursday, March 7 at the Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Arizona beat USC 76-48.

As a team, the Wildcats shot 57 percent from the field in the first half and 55 percent from beyond the arc, while the Trojans shot 24 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

At the end of a fast-paced first quarter, the Wildcats led 21-14. The opening quarter started seeming as though it could go either way, with the Trojans easily finding any basket they wanted while the Wildcats struggled to find their own shots.

Toward the end of the first, the Wildcat offense started to come to life, and Arizona started to pull away. That would continue into the second quarter, as the Wildcats outscored the Trojans 23-7, putting them up 44-21 at halftime.

Freshman Cate Reese had a strong first half, finishing with 13 points and four rebounds, highlighted by a sequence in which she hit a 3 and then had an emphatic dunk on the other as the buzzer sounded.

The third quarter seemed to be a more passive one from the ‘Cats, who seemed content to hold the ball until there were about five seconds left on the shot clock before putting up a field goal attempt. Still, for every bucket that the Trojans got, the Wildcats had an answer and headed into the fourth quarter with a 24 point lead, 60-36.

The Wildcats, comfortably ahead in the fourth quarter, gave some extra rest to players like redshirt sophomore Aari McDonald, who played just 32 minutes, a low mark she hadn’t reached in the past 18 games.

The game seemed to be a complete effort from the Wildcats, especially considering the circumstances, but coach Barnes wasn’t too satisfied with the performance. When told by a reporter that the game was the most complete effort they had seen all season, Barnes had a simple reply:

“You must not have been there for the third quarter,” she said with a straight face, before cracking a laugh. “I thought it was all good till the fourth quarter.”

Reese finished with a 19-point, 11-rebound double-double on 8-13 shooting. McDonald finished with 19 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Also hitting double-digit points for the Wildcats were senior Tee Tee Starks and sophomore Sam Thomas, who finished with 14 and 10 points, respectively.

With the win over the Trojans, the Wildcats now move on to face the No. 1 seed in the tournament, the Oregon Ducks on Friday, March 7, at 2 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.

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