Arizona outlasts UNLV 72-67 in NCAA Tournament opener
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Shaina Pellington scored 30 points, Cate Reese added 16 and Arizona outlasted UNLV 72-67 on Saturday night in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats (21-7) were jittery early in their first home NCAA Tournament game since 1998, when coach Adia Barnes was still playing. Arizona bounced back after Barnes went deep into her bench — 11 players in the first half — but had a hard time shaking UNLV.
The No. 4 seed in the Greensboro Region, Arizona finally pulled away behind Pellington and Reese, who combined for 22 of the Wildcats' 24 fourth-quarter points. Arizona moves on to face North Carolina in Monday's second round.
The 13th-seeded Lady Rebels (26-7) didn't flinch in their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002, drowning out the crowd noise to go right at last year's national runner-up.
The Mountain West Conference regular-season and tournament champions led by five after three quarters, but succumbed to Arizona's defensive pressure in the fourth. Desi-Rae Young had 16 points to lead UNLV, which had 10 turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Arizona earned the right to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament last season, only to lose it when the entire bracket was moved to San Antonio.
The Wildcats earned another shot by getting a top-4 seed in this year's field of 68 and the McKale Center crowd let loose all that pent-up energy.
The deafening sounds didn't seem to bother the Lady Rebels. They made Arizona look like the inexperienced team in the first quarter, not on that played for a national championship a year ago.
UNLV attacked Arizona from the start, aggressively going to the basket while hitting 7 of 12 shots in the first quarter. The Lady Rebels also rattled the Wildcats defensively, holding them to 3-of-15 shooting to lead 14-9.
Barnes decided to shake things up, replacing starters with end-of-the-bench players.
The Wildcats got the message, turning up their energy — and in the McKake Center. Led by Pellington, Arizona hit 9 of 13 shots in the second quarter to take a 31-29 halftime lead.
The Wildcats kept hitting shots to start the third quarter, but the Lady Rebels wouldn't back down. UNLV hit 8 of 12 shots in the quarter — Alyssa Durazo-Frescas even banked in a 3 — and closed with a 7-0 run to lead 53-48.
Arizona finally got its mojo back in the fourth quarter, opening with an 8-0 run to go up 56-53. The Wildcats shut down the Lady Rebels from there, earning a hard-fought trip into the second round.