TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Sam Thomas scored a season-high 25 points and tied a career best with six three-pointers, and No. 10 Arizona held high-scoring Utah to its fewest points of the season in a 76-64 victory Friday night for its fifth straight win in the series.
Utah committed 22 turnovers, one short of its season high, and was particularly vulnerable in the final four minutes of the second quarter, when Arizona unveiled a full-court press that led to seven turnovers in a decisive 19-4 run for a 41-26 halftime lead.
“If we didn’t have the diamond press tonight, we probably don’t win the game,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “It was something we’ve been working on but didn’t show until today. We did a good job of turning them over.”
Utah entered as the highest-scoring team in the Pac-12 at 84.7 points per game, and Arizona entered with the best scoring defense in the league at 53.3 points per game.
Cate Reese added 14 points and Koi Love scored all eight of her points in the final four minutes of the second quarter for the Wildcats (13-2, 3-2 Pac-12), who had lost two of their previous three after reaching No. 4 in the AP Top 25, the highest regular-season ranking in program history.
Gianna Kneepkens had 15 points, Brynna Maxwell had 13 and Peyton McFarland had 12 for Utah (9-5, 0-2), which played its third game since Dec. 21 after a 23-day COVID-19 pause.
Arizona designed the first play of the game for Thomas, who scored on a 3-pointer from the left wing 54 seconds in. Then she scored again. And again. Thomas was 7 of 11 from the field, 6 of 9 on 3-pointers.
“My family, the fans, the coaches, my teammates, everybody in the world always wants me to shoot more,” Thomas said with a smile. “It’s been a constant thing my whole time here. I am trying to shoot more this season. After I hit my first two, my confidence was up. My teammates were intentionally looking for me, and I think that really helped.”
Arizona built its lead to 46-26 early in the third quarter before Kneepkens keyed a run that brought the Utes within six points twice early in the fourth quarter, the last at 56-50.
“Arizona is talented and tough and physical, and this is a really hard place to play,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “We had a couple-minute stretch in the second quarter where we turned it over and they capitalized on it. We couldn’t quite get back on top after that. But we never quit. Sam Thomas is a tremendous player. Hats off to her.”
Thomas had eight points, including her fifth 3, and Reese added a layup in a 10-0 run as Arizona regained control at 66-50.
“This is how we bounce back after a loss,” said Barnes, whose team was coming off a 68-66 overtime loss at Oregon last Saturday.
Utah: Despite coming up short against the Pac-12’s highest ranked teams No. 2 Stanford and Arizona, the Utes have the look of a team that will be there for the long haul. Utah trimmed a 20-point deficit to six in the second half, and it has the highest scoring offense in the league.
Arizona: The Wildcats showed no ill effects from the contentious 68-66 overtime loss at Oregon last Saturday, with their disruptive forcing the issue against Utah. Arizona came away with 22 turnovers, the 13th time in 15 games it has had at least 15.
Utah: Plays at Arizona State on Sunday in the second of a three-game road trop that concludes against Oregon on Wednesday.
Arizona: Plays host to Colorado on Sunday
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25