Sophomore Jones comes through in clutch for Wildcats
The Wildcat women's hoops team was horrible from the free throw line until it mattered most.
Sophomore guard Natalie Jones, an 80 percent free throw shooter on the season, drained four shots from the line in the final 17 seconds as Arizona ended the game on an 11-1 run to overcome the Oregon Ducks 70-66 last night in Macarthur Court.
"It's all mental," said Jones of her final shots from the stripe. "Our coach tells us when you're on the free throw line you're by yourself and it's the easiest shot to take."
The Wildcats (15-4, 7-1 Pacific 10 Conference) blew a double-digit second half lead only to come back and stun the Ducks (10-8, 2-6), who led by six with less than four minutes to play.
The win moved Arizona to within a half-game of Stanford for first place in the conference.
The Wildcats were forced to play much of the game without the services of sophomore center Shawntinice Polk, who picked up three fouls less than 13 minutes into the game.
Arizona opened up a 13-point lead early in the second half but saw it quickly evaporate after Polk picked up her fourth foul just over in minute into the second half.
The Ducks went on an 18-2 run to take a 49-46 lead with about 12 minutes to play.
UA head coach Joan Bonvicini was frustrated that her team was playing "not to lose instead of to win" in the second half.
"When you can win on the road, though, any win's a good win," Bonvicini said.
After sophomore guard Katrina Lindner hit a trey to put the Wildcats back up 56-53, the Ducks went on an 8-0 spurt to go ahead by five.
"They get their confidence, they're at home and we were struggling," Bonvicini said. "We brought back Polkey a little sooner than we wanted to, but it helped defensively."
Oregon enjoyed its biggest lead, 65-59, before Arizona's final onslaught. Sophomore forward CoCoa Sanford hit a jumper to cut the lead to four, and a 3-pointer by junior guard Dee-Dee Wheeler trimmed Oregon's lead to 65-64 with 2:08 left.
The Wildcats took the lead for good following a Polk layup with just under a minute to play. Polk was limited to seven points in sparse playing time.
"The tables were turned and then (Oregon) played not to lose," Bonvicini said.
Jones scored six of her eight points in the second half for Arizona, which was a miserable 8 of 17 from the line prior to Jones' clutch shots. The sophomore hit two free throws with 16 seconds left, followed by another pair with six seconds remaining - both in one-and-one situations - to disallow an Oregon comeback.
Jones also helped Arizona, which won its fourth straight against the Ducks, finish off Oregon in Eugene with her free throw shooting last season.
"It's funny because it happened the same time last year," she said. "It's kind of like dŽjˆ vu. I give (the credit) to my team because they got the ball to me."
"We got to the free throw line, which is what we wanted to do all night, but we weren't hitting them," Bonvicini said. "But finally Natalie hit some key ones down the stretch."
After Oregon enjoyed its only lead of the first half at 6-4, Arizona went on an 11-2 run, capped by a layup by sophomore forward CoCoa Sanford, to go ahead 15-8. Sanford came off the bench to score nine for the Wildcats, including seven in the first half.
With Polk sidelined for the last eight minutes of the first half, Wheeler picked up the slack in Polk's absence, scoring 22 points and hitting three 3-pointers before fouling out with 39 seconds left.
Arizona carried over the hot outside shooting performance it enjoyed against UCLA by going 3 of 4 from 3-point range in the first half. Senior guard Aimee Grzyb was 2 of 2 from beyond the arc in the first.
The Wildcats went into halftime with their largest lead of the half, 38-30, outscoring Oregon 15-10 with Polk on the bench. Arizona shot 57 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.
"This is a huge win for us," Bonvicini said. "It was a good win because it's tough on the road."
Freshman forward/center Shannon Hobson got her first start of the season for Arizona, making her the fourth Wildcat to start at the power forward position. Hobson scored three points in limited minutes.
The Wildcats take on Oregon State tomorrow night in the second of their three-game road trip. The Beavers fell 63-56 to Arizona State last night.
"We do have to shoot better and take better care of the ball and do a better job defensively," Bonvicini said. "It's going to be a really tough game."