Round two of the Duel in the Desert belongs to No. 18 Arizona women’s basketball as they squeezed out a narrow come-from-behind victory against the school from up north, No. 16 ASU, with a final score of 59-53. This is the first time Arizona has swept the Sun Devils since the 2000 season.
Head coach Adia Barnes was emphatic with the way her team was able to complete the sweep of their rivals.
“The last time was right after I graduated from college. It’s about damn time,” Barnes said. “Sweeping someone for the first time in 20 years is monumental for this program.”
This was the first time in rivalry history that the two schools have met as teams ranked in the top 25. The game was a defensive battle from the tip, as both squads forced one another into tough, contested shots.
It was a seesaw battle as both teams traded leads throughout the first half. As the half came to an end, the Wildcats found themselves down six with two seconds left. Aari McDonald received an inbounds pass from the sideline then darted across half-court and banked in a three from the parking lot just as the buzzer sounded, cutting the ASU lead to just three going into the break.
“I didn’t think she was actually going to make that," Barnes said. "A lot of the times she’s chucking it with no chance, but this time she actually made it, and I told her that’s why we practice our half court shots. I think it was a huge basket, those are huge momentum builders. We went into the half feeling good.”
Arizona’s comeback victory was due in large part to the tenacious guard play of McDonald. She displayed heart over height as she led the game in rebounds with 11, notching a double-double as she added 24 points.
“My mindset was kill, kill, kill,” McDonald said. “Just having a mentality like they can’t guard you, once they stepped up, I got shooters in the corner... I had teammates stepping up and making shots.”
Amari Carter and Sam Thomas were key contributors in the win as they combined 24 points, hitting key threes down the stretch for Arizona and going 5-10 combined from distance.
Carter was huge in the third as she scored eight of her 11 points in the quarter, capped off with a corner three at the buzzer, giving them a 39-33 lead heading into the fourth. Arizona never surrendered the lead after that.
“This was [Carter's] best game as a Wildcat,” McDonald said, praising her teammate. “I’m really proud of her, she has stepped up to the plate and is always contributing, whether it’s offense or defense, and I love it.”
Thomas’ impact was massive for the Wildcats on the defensive end as well, finishing with three takeaways and three blocked shots in the contest.
“[Thomas] is definitely the most underrated defensive player in the Pac-12 and one of the most underrated in the country,” Barnes said. “She doesn’t reach, keeps people in front of her and she’s never out of position. Our team is not as successful defensively without her.”
The energy inside McKale Center was electric, with another record-setting night in attendance as 10,160 attended the second showdown in the desert, making the sweep of ASU that much sweeter for the ‘Cats.
“I love Tucson and the fans," Barnes said. "Where else could I tweet for a couple of days and 10,000 people show up? It’s the fans that get you going and pumped, it makes you play harder. It’s awesome for them.”
Coach Barnes wasn't the only person feeling the energy as the players fed off the crowd as well. “That was crazy," Thomas added. "The last time we had that crowd was during our WNIT run. It was a great atmosphere to play in.”
After dropping three in a row, the Wildcats were able to bounce back with a three-game winning streak. Arizona won't see action for a week, as they are set to host the Southern California schools next weekend.
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