TUCSON, Ariz. — The No. 10 Arizona women’s basketball team has a lot of fun playing its pressure defense, and that has taken a lot of the fun out of it for its opponents.
“We’re just committed to defense,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said after the Wildcats had 15 steals and scored 15 points off 20 turnovers in a 60-51 victory over Washington State on Friday night
“We’re confident in it. We thrive off turning people over. It helps us score easily in transition, and we like that. Our team gets just as pumped about a shot-clock violation or a great steal. It’s something we have a lot of fun with.”
Cate Reese had 17 points and six rebounds and Aari McDonald had 14 points and five rebounds as the Wildcats (13-2 overall, 11-2 Pac-12) avenged their only loss in the last six weeks.
Sam Thomas had five steals, Helena Pueyo had four and 2020 Pac-12 defensive player of the year McDonald, who started her college career at Washington, had three.
“We obviously wanted this revenge game after Washington State kind of picked us apart in the first game,” Thomas said.
“Every game we try to focus on defense. We like to be aggressive and press up. It’s different. Teams don’t see that a lot. So it is a benefit for us. I think that is going to take us really far.”
Freshman Charlisse Leger-Walker had 19 points, sister Krystal Leger-Walker had 11 points and Ula Motuga had nine points and 10 rebounds points for Washington State.
The Wildcats pulled away from a 44-42 lead after three quarters by limiting the Cougars (9-7, 7-8) to three field goals in the fourth quarter. The Cougars shot 38 percent from the field.
“Arizona was awesome,” WSU coach Kamie Ethridge said. “They are so good defensively, clearly one of the best defensive teams we’ve faced.
“It’s too bad that we couldn’t handle their pressure. They had 15 steals, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that in a game. There are a lot of stats that tell you about the day, and that’s one of them.”
The Wildcats are 13-2 in the Pac-12 for the first time in program history. Their only loss since Jan. 1 was an overtime defeat at Washington State on Jan.10.
McDonald, named to the Naismith midseason award watch this week, has scored in double-figures in 81 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the nation.
Washington State has lost four or five and seven of nine since Charlisse Leger-Walker beat Arizona 71-69 on a floater in the final second of overtime in Pullman.
Arizona shot 33.3 percent from the field for the game and missed 11 straight field-goal attempts in a five-point third quarter as the Cougars closed to 44-42.
But the Wildcats scored the first five points in the fourth quarter an opened a 53-43 lead as the Cougars missed nine of their first 10 shots in the quarter.
Ethridge has the WSU program headed in the right direction in her third season. The Cougars have seven Pac-12 victories after totaling eight the previous two seasons, and they are on an upward trajectory after nine and 11 victories in her first two years. The Cougars have one senior starter.
Arizona again showed no ill effects from its forced 16-day layoff while adhering to coronavirus protocols, winning its second straight after getting back on the floor last Monday. The victory over Washington State followed a 20-point victory at Oregon and affirmed the Wildcats’ place among the Pac-12 elite.
ARIZONA FOR THE DEFENSE
The Wildcats have limited their last seven opponents to an average of 51.4 points per game and have come up with an average of 20 turnovers per game.
Washington State hit a three-pointer with 13 seconds remaining to avoid its lowest scoring game of the season.
“We are able to sub in and out so we have fresh legs coming in ready to press,” Thomas said.
Washington State: At Arizona State on Sunday.
Arizona: Hosts Washington on Sunday.
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