The Arizona women’s basketball team got an early test in just its second game of the season, pulling away late at the McKale Center to defeat Santa Clara 65-52 following a fourth quarter comeback led by forward Sam Thomas and guard Aari McDonald.
The final score does not tell the full story, as Arizona trailed by as much as eight points and found themselves down by three heading into the final quarter.
Thomas came up big for the 'Cats in the fourth, as she scored eight in the quarter, connecting on both of her 3-point attempts. She finished with 17 points, 4 assists and a game-high 8 rebounds.
“I’m really proud of the growth in Sam [Thomas]. I’m glad she’s being more comfortable and more aggressive,” said McDonald.
McDonald’s damage came in the third quarter, as she scored 10 points while also playing aggressive defense, swiping two steals to help keep the Wildcats alive heading into the fourth. She finished with a game-high 20 points, 5 assists and 2 steals.
“We were just thinking to stay together and that starts on the defensive end,” McDonald said. “Last year we would’ve looked defeated, but I’m proud of the team. We buckled down, got key stops and scored.”
Arizona found themselves down after they struggled to find a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball in the first half, shooting a lackluster 38% from the field and a woeful 9% from deep. Seven of their nine first half turnovers came in the second quarter alone.
“I thought we were gritty, showed heart and made some big shots, but we didn’t play 40 minutes," head coach Adia Barnes said. “I think we played well for about 18 minutes. We are getting there. Going into the second half, I told the team we have two more wars left, we have to play defense.”
After the game, Barnes talked about what was not working for the 'Cats in the first three quarters.
“I felt like we weren’t containing them,” she said. “We had bad offense. We were really stagnant on offense.”
Adding to the head coach's statement, Thomas said, “We were a little stagnant in the first half and that’s why it was a little slow, but we talked about it and rallied together.”
Thomas said she believes the team is still itching to prove the doubters wrong and that they are capable of advancing to the NCAA Tournament this season after ending last year with a WNIT title.
“After the WNIT, we are really trying to make some noise and get some respect from people, really trying to prove game-by-game that we deserve to go the NCAA Tournament,” Thomas said.
Arizona is set to hit the road next week in a short two-game road trip before returning home, with the first stop against Chicago State on Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.
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