Around McKale Center
The women stepped into the limelight over the weekend, with basketball and softball giving Wildcat fans something to cheer about.
On the softball diamond, Arizona is off to a 5-0 start to the season, winning three games by the Run Rule. The fifth-ranked Wildcats capped off a perfect weekend at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe with an 8-0 win over No. 12 Tennessee. Aided by two errors, the Wildcats scored five runs in the first inning and then added three in the bottom of the fifth to Run Rule the Lady Vols, 8-0. Alyssa Denham (2-0) gave up five hits and walked two in earning the complete-game victory. Arizona opened the season with an 11-1, five-inning win over Kansas. The Wildcats then knocked off Seattle, 4-3, and Portland State, 6-3, before run-ruling Western Michigan 12-0. Arizona returns home to host several schools in the Hillenbrand Invitational, which begins on Valentine’s Day. Arizona will play Long Beach State and Northern Iowa on Friday, Oklahoma on Saturday, and then a second showdown with Long Beach State on Sunday.
Arizona moved one step closer to earning itself a protected seed and hosting the opening round games of the NCAA Tournament in Tucson after upsetting No. 9 Oregon State in Corvallis on Saturday. It was the first road victory over a Top 10 team in school history. The Wildcats trailed the Beavers by five points at halftime, but rallied in the second half to force overtime. In the extra session, Arizona was dominant, outscoring OSU 9-2 to earn the victory. Dominique McBryde had season highs in points and blocked shots. The senior finished with 19 points and four blocks, while adding eight rebounds. Aair McDonald was equally impressive, finishing with a game-high 22 points. She also had nine rebounds and four steals.
Arizona will now play four of its final six conference games at home. The Wildcats host the Washington schools this week before traveling to Utah and California. They’ll conclude the regular season at McKale Center against Stanford and California.
In the most recent Bracketology, Arizona is projected as a No. 4 seed.
Arizona suffered its worst loss of the season at home against UCLA. The Bruins dominated from start to finish, holding Arizona to its worst shooting night ever at McKale Center. The Wildcats were an incredible 15-for-59 shooting (25.4%). Meanwhile, the Bruins shot 51.1 percent from the floor and an impressive 13-for-22 (59.1%) in the decisive second half to win going away, 65-52. The Wildcats only made 3-of-19 two point attempts in the first half, which only improved mildly to a 6-for-17 shooting effort from inside the arc following intermission. Complicating matters was the team’s 0-for-12 shooting from deep after the break.
Defensively, it was clear Arizona’s own offensive struggles were carrying over to the other end of the floor. The Wildcats had zero answers. Arizona’s big three freshmen, who lead the team in every imaginable statistical category, combined to make just 7-of-33 shot attempts. Senior guard Dylan Smith was 0-for-7 on the night. Reserve guard Jemarl Baker did hit three 3-Pointers in the first half, but finished the game just 3-for-8 from the floor. Max Hazzard was held scoreless.
Why Fans Should Not Worry
Unlike in recent seasons, the Pac-12 is a really good conference this season. As it stands today, seven teams are within two games of first place. Additionally, despite dropping out of the national polls again, Arizona’s power numbers, statistically, remain among the nation’s elite.
Why Fans Should Worry
Conference losses at home always hurt. More importantly, a team like UCLA is exactly the type of team Arizona will be facing in the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins, right now, are an average Power 5 team. However, the mid-majors that make the Big Dance are of the same quality, and maybe even better, than UCLA. What last Saturday proved is as good as Arizona can be at times this season, they are still a very vulnerable team whose season could prematurely end in the blink of an eye.