Much like everything Arizona’s Aari McDonald does on the court, the gesture was offered quickly.
Despite some playful taunts and cheers from Washington band members sitting behind the basket, McDonald made a free throw midway through the fourth quarter. As she began to backpedal to the other side of the court, she extended her right index finger over her lips and grinned at the band.
A few seconds later, she came up with a steal at midcourt, was fouled and found herself right back at the free-throw line, grinning again.
McDonald took control in the fourth quarter and quieted a small crowd in her return to Alaska Airlines Arena, scoring 24 points to lead Arizona to a 69-59 victory over Washington in a heated Pac-12 women’s basketball game Thursday night.
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The Huskies (8-15, 1-11 Pac-12) have lost eight straight.
Emotions ran high for both teams in McDonald’s first game against the Huskies since her transfer from UW in 2017.
McDonald, a quick left-handed point guard, was a starting guard on the Huskies’ Sweet 16 team two years ago.
She followed former UW assistant Adia Barnes to Arizona, and has emerged this season as the NCAA’s second-leading scorer, averaging better than 25 points per game coming into the week.
The Huskies’ defensive plan centered on trapping and pressing and harassing McDonald. It worked for awhile.
McDonald had as many turnovers (three) as field goals in a sloppy first half for both teams, who combined for 27 turnovers in the first two quarters.
Arizona led 28-25 at halftime.
Two free throws from UW’s Hannah Johnson gave the Huskies a 51-48 lead with 6:36 left in the game. But the Wildcats (15-7, 5-6) closed the game on a 21-8 run, with McDonald attempting 10 free throws in the fourth quarter alone.
McDonald drew 18 fouls on UW defenders — the Huskies as a team drew 20 total fouls on Arizona. After the game, about the only thing McDonald was upset about was her eight missed free throws (on 19 attempts).
“It definitely felt good to be back in Seattle,” McDonald said. “Obviously, I still love the Seattle fans, and it’s good to be back. And good to get a team win.”
There were fouls and hard screens on both sides of the court. It added up to a hard-earned victory for McDonald and the Wildcats.
The Huskies had two players leave the game with apparent head injuries. Missy Peterson was still being evaluated by doctors after the game after taking an errant hit from the back of McDonald’s hand in the second quarter.
T.T. Watkins left the game in the fourth quarter after a collision near midcourt. As trainers attended to Watkins on the court, UW coach Jody Wynn and Barnes exchanged words over the non-foul call, with Wynn upset about chirping from the Arizona bench.
Soon after, Arizona’s Tee Tee Starks was in visible pain on the court after she ran into a blind screen. She had to be helped back to the locker room and did not return.
“It was a physical game, and honestly I’m just proud of our sustained effort throughout the game. We battled today,” Wynn said.
Amber Melgoza had 24 points to lead the Huskies, who shot just 37 percent (20 of 54) from the field. Darcy Rees added 13 points.
After the game, former UW teammates Melgoza and McDonald hugged and posed for pictures on one corner of the court. Several other UW players soon joined for group pictures.
“During the game, we’re not really friends on the court,” McDonald said. “But after the game, it was nothing but love.”