Today was bittersweet as the No. 18 Arizona women's basketball team took the floor and the senior Wildcats walked onto the University of Arizona's McKale Center court for their last in-season home game. The seniors had extra motivation while playing the No. 21 University of Colorado Boulder.
The Wildcats starting lineup included all upperclassmen: Shaina Pellington, Lauren Fields, Jade Loville, Esmery Martinez and Cate Reese. Head coach Adia Barnes, dressed in an all-blue suit, appeared locked-in and game ready. Coach Barnes had her Wildcats team focused and ready to get the job done from the opening tip.
Starting center Reese matched up with Colorado center Tayanna Jones for the jump ball, which the Buffaloes won. After a nearly four-minute dry period of not scoring, Martinez sank a beautiful 3-pointer to finally put Arizona on the board.
With 5:15 left in the first quarter, Reese received her first personal foul, resulting in Maya Nnaji subbing her out. Nnaji made a nice jumper, making the score 9-7 to Colorado just before the media timeout with 4:19 left in the quarter. Reese tied up the game 10-10 with a 3-pointer.
Arizona kept the momentum going when Nnaji made a layup on a fast break, giving Arizona the lead for the first time this game. Reese was fouled with 1:41 left in the first quarter resulting in her making both free throws. The score was 17-10 Arizona with under a minute left in the first quarter. Boulder's coach appeared to be frustrated with her team's performance and let her players know during the timeout between quarters.
Barnes kept freshmen Nnaji and Paris Clark on the court to start the second quarter. Pellington made a jumper and a layup within the first minute of the second quarter to keep the momentum going.
Guard Jaylyn Sherrod, a standout on this Colorado team, was frustrated on both ends of the court as the Wildcats were doing a good job of shutting her down. Sherrod received her second personal with 7:16 left in the second quarter and was subbed out.
Pellington then officially scored her 1,500th career point in the second quarter of the game.
Pellington had a sneaky breakthrough layup, making the score 25-14 Arizona with 6:19 left in the second quarter. Loville came back into the game and had an immediate impact, stealing the ball, going the length of the court and finishing the play with an impressive layup. Colorado called a timeout at the 4:59 mark. The score was 27-16 Wildcats and the crowd was rocking. The score at halftime was 31-20 Wildcats.
In the first half, Arizona had seven points off the bench and 16 points in the paint. Colorado had six points off the bench and 14 points in the paint.
To start the second half off, Pellington made a second-chance jumper. Reese and Madison Conner executed a nice give-and-go that resulted in a layup by Reese. At the media timeout with 4:12 left in the third quarter, the score was 35-25 Arizona.
Pellington dug the ball out from Colorado's hands and then took it down the court for a nice layup. Helena Pueyo then hit a fantastic three off a Colorado turnover with 2:08 left in the third quarter. Pueyo launched the ball down the court to Pellington who made a quick layup to put Arizona ahead 43-25. The score at the end of the third quarter was 48-27.
In the fourth quarter, fouls were flying back and forth. Fields had a breakaway and was fouled during her shot, giving her an opportunity for free throws. She made one free throw and missed the other.
With 6:33 left in the game, the score was 49-37. Reese was taken to the ground by Colorado's Aaronette Vonleh, who was given a personal foul. Vonleh proceeded to stick her tongue out as the crowd booed her off the court.
Martinez was all over the missed shots by Arizona, rebounding most balls that were in her area.
As the minutes ran out, Barnes started subbing out her seniors. The crowd gave Pellington a standing ovation and she paused for just a moment to soak it all in as she left McKale Center court for the last time.
The fans in McKale Center rose in cheers as they gave the team a standing ovation in the final minute of the game. Arizona beat Colorado 61-42.
“It’s been a rocky road, from the moment I got here to now there's been some huge developments. I am still not perfect, I am learning to be a better leader,” Pellington said, after being asked how she is as a leader.
“It’s been an amazing five years, nothing like I expected. I think we did some amazing things and I am happy to have been a part of it”, fifth-year senior Reese said after the game.
“I was curious to see how we would respond after a really high high on Friday; I am proud of us,” Barnes said in the post-game press conference. “We have been defending better than we have in the past, [and] the defensive work we have put in is starting to show. We are peaking at the right time, and individuals are getting better.”
The attendance at the game was 8,267 people. Seniors were crying and celebrating what could be their final time playing in McKale Center.
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