2019 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament: Arizona moves on to face top-seeded Oregon with 76-48 win over USC
By W.G. Ramirez
LAS VEGAS -- Arizona coach Adia Barnes couldn't have asked for a better start to the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The Wildcats shot 57.4 percent from the floor, were 8 of 16 (50 percent) from long range, outrebounded USC 41-28 and outscored the Trojans in the paint 40-20.
Yet, as exuberant as Barnes was when she entered the locker room to congratulate her players, she said Thursday's 76-48 demolition left her wanting more in Las Vegas.
"I don't think it's our most complete game," said Barnes, whose Wildcats are having their best season in eight years after winning just six games last season. "I think we played good basketball, but I wouldn't say it's our most complete game because I thought the third quarter was bad. I think we played a really good first half. I think we came out and we were really intense, we were great defensively. We had some good offense. But I wouldn't say it's our best game."
Next up, the eighth-seeded Wildcats (18-12) face No. 1 seed Oregon (27-3), which regularly has complete games, and just defeated Arizona 83-54 on March 1.
"Oregon is a very good team, and we felt we played 30 minutes of good basketball against them," Barnes said. "We know they're coached very well. They have a lot of weapons. But we feel like we have some good weapons, too, so we're excited."
Redshirt sophomore Aari McDonald, who owns the single-season scoring record at Arizona and was named to the all-conference team earlier in the week, led the charge against USC, scoring 19 points on 8 of 14 shooting from the field, while adding seven assists and four rebounds to her stat sheet.
[Related video: Aari McDonald on defensive effort against USC]
Cate Reese, who was named to the Pac 12 All-Freshman Team, also scored 19 points for the Wildcats, while grabbing 11 rebounds. It was Reese's sixth double-double of the season.
But it was the inspiring play by Tee Tee Starks that Barnes praised, saying it allowed the rest of the team to get comfortable in their roles and create rhythm on offense while shutting down the Trojans on the defensive end.
Starks finished with 14 points on 5 of 7 shooting (4-for-5 from 3-point range), five assists, four rebounds and was instrumental in keying-in defensively to stymie the normally potent USC offense.
"When Tee Tee hit a couple 3s in the beginning, I'm like, 'okay, I kind of like where this is going,' and she definitely took a lot of pressure off me today, and so did Cate and my other teammates," McDonald said. "Like they're starting to contribute at the right time. But Tee Tee definitely had an efficient game today, and we need her to continue that for us to keep winning."
Las Vegas product Sam Thomas, the only player in the Pac-12 to average at least 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, was Arizona's only other player scoring in double digits, contributing with 10 points.
"It was great to play in front of everyone. I had my family there, a couple friends, old teammates, so it was just great to see them behind the bench," said Thomas, who scored seven of her points in the second half. "I just wanted to come out and get the win. If my teammates were on fire like they were, I just wanted to feed them first and then I'll get mine later."
USC (17-13) came in averaging 70.7 points per game on .417 percent shooting, but couldn't find its groove against the Wildcats' swarming defense that allowed 62.6 points per game during the regular season on a mere 39 percent from the floor. In 30 games this season, Arizona has held its opponent to less than their scoring average 22 times.
"You've just got to give all the credit in the world to Arizona," USC coach Mark Trakh said. "They played well. They defended us well. They ran their offense well. They've got a kid that's really hard to guard in McDonald, and we tried. But I thought defensively we weren't really that bad, especially in the second half. It was just offensively a combination of their defense, and we hadn't shot like that in a long time."
USC finished 16-for-62 (.258) from the floor, including 4 of 18 from 3-point range.
The Trojans were led by Mariya Moore, who had 12 points, despite shooting 2 of 14 from the floor. Kayla Overbeck added 11 points and five rebounds in the loss.
W.G. Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and the Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez