By Lindsey Frazier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, March 21, 2005
Two weeks ago, the Arizona women's basketball team thought its season might be over.
But the No. 9 seed Wildcats proved yesterday that they still have some fight left in them as Arizona defeated No. 8 seed Oklahoma, 72-69, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.
With the win, all five Pacific 10 Conference teams - ASU, Southern California, Oregon and Stanford - advance to the second round of the tournament, setting a new conference record. In addition, the Wildcats (20-11) recorded a first-round win for the first time in five years.
"This was a sweet win," said Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini. "This was a real confidence game for us. We just needed to win again. To do it in the tournament and take that one step again, I'm just really proud of our team."
Freshman guard Jessica Arnold ignited Arizona's offense early in the first half, scoring nine of the team's first 11 points to make it a 15-9 game.
The Sooners kept it close and took their first lead of the game, 25-24, at 3:44, as part of a 13-2 run to close out the first half.
Arizona headed into the locker room down by five points, 34-29.
The victory marks only the second time this year that Arizona has come back from a halftime deficit.
"We definitely lost some momentum," Bonvicini said of Oklahoma's first-half scoring drive. "I really challenged the team at halftime. I thought Polkey (Shawntinice Polk) really needed to step up and Natalie Jones needed to contribute. This was a game of runs."
The Wildcats came out strong to begin the second half, scoring eight of the first 10 points. Oklahoma responded with five consecutive points to give the Sooners a four-point lead, 43-39.
The Wildcats went on a 13-3 scoring drive to reclaim the lead, 52-46.
Later in the half, Arizona netted four straight points for its biggest lead of the game, 56-48. Both teams traded baskets for the remainder of the half before Oklahoma nailed five straight points to make it 63-62.
"I thought another big momentum change was when we pressed," Bonvicini said. "Our pressure really caught to them. I think we caused two turnovers off their backcourt."
With the game knotted at 64, junior guard Jones drained a trey, but the Sooners responded with their own 3-pointer to tie the game at 67.
"I just challenged Natalie because I felt they weren't even guarding her," Bonvicini said. "She had a big 3. I thought that was really critical."
Junior center Polk helped seal the victory by hitting a layup with 38 seconds remaining, giving the Wildcats a two-point margin.
Bonvicini said Arizona was careful to contain Sooners point guard Dionnah Jackson, who finished the game with 17 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.
"We knew she is very similar to (senior guard) Dee-Dee (Wheeler), except she is a better rebounder," Bonvicini said. "She was the heart and soul of the Oklahoma team. She is a great player - the best rebounding point guard I've ever coached against."
Arizona brought down 40 boards and committed 10 turnovers to the Sooners' 39 and 14, respectively.
"I thought we were good on the offensive glass," Bonvicini said. "We allowed a few too many (second chance) shots for Oklahoma."
The game was only the third time this season the Wildcats committed 10 or fewer turnovers. They average 17.5 turnovers per game on the season.
Wheeler paced Arizona with 16 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, and Arnold contributed 15 points, including four 3-pointers.
Senior forward Danielle Adefeso had 10 points, and Polk tallied nine points and brought down seven boards. Jones added a team-high eight rebounds.
"I thought Dee-Dee had as a good a leadership game as she has had all year," Bonvicini said.
Jones and Wheeler combined for 75 minutes against the Sooners without committing a turnover.
With the win, the Wildcats secured their third-straight 20-win season and their eighth in the last 10 years.
Arizona takes on No. 1 seed LSU tomorrow in Thompson-Boling Arena.