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Women's hoops drops home opener

Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior guard Natalie Jones has the ball knocked away by Utah's Kim Smith during the Wildcats' loss to No. 20 Utah on Saturday.
By Ryan Casey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 28, 2005
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All that separated the Arizona women's basketball team from an unlikely comeback against No. 23 Utah was a 3-pointer at the buzzer heaved toward the hoop by sophomore guard Jessica Arnold.

The shot, like the efforts of the Wildcats on Saturday, fell just short, as Arizona lost 66-63 in McKale Center.

The Utes (2-1) seemed to have the game well in hand with a late 64-57 lead, but Arizona (2-2) chipped the advantage down to four points, 66-62, after redshirt junior guard Joy Hollingsworth hit a shot from behind the arc with 21.6 seconds remaining.

After Jones hit one of two free throws, Arizona had one final possession to tie the game following a few Utah miscues.

Down 66-63 coming out of a timeout, Jones brought the ball up the court and passed it to a waiting Arnold, whose subsequent shot was partially blocked.

"We thought we had it. We just never let up, kept fighting," Hollingsworth said. "This is a game - not to take anything away from Utah - that we thought we could have won. This is definitely a heartbreaker."

Arizona finished 27-of-66 (40.9 percent) from the field and was out-rebounded 38-32, including 27-17 on the defensive glass.

"The thing for us is that we were allowing them too many second shots, and rebounding was a real big thing today," said Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini.

"We weren't getting any second shots," said Jones, who led the Wildcats with 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting. "It was just one shot, and we were done."

Senior guard Julie Larsen scored all 12 of her points during a 17-4 second-half run for the Utes, hitting four shots from behind the arc.

"I hadn't been shooting well," Larsen said. "I kept shooting, and I guess they finally started to fall."

"We lost (Larsen) in our rotation, and she comes out and hits four 3's, and then we're on our heels," Bonvicini said.

Arizona held a 27-24 lead at the half, and began the second half with two quick buckets to hold their biggest lead of the game, 31-24. Utah responded by scoring 32 of the next 48 points to go up 56-47.

"(The Utes) tried to force us to shoot from the outside, and we have to be prepared for that because a lot of teams are going to do that this year, make us win from the outside," Hollingsworth said.

The Wildcats narrowed the gap to two with an 8-1 run, capped by two Natalie Jones free throws, but Utah's Marie Warner nailed a 3-pointer with 3:41 to play to put the Utes up 60-55.

"(Warner) and (Larsen) lit us up from behind the arc," Jones said. "We knew that they were 3-point shooters, but I don't think we were getting out there enough on the ball."

Arizona missed 12 of 14 3-point attempts, compared to the Utes' 8-of-16 clip.

The Wildcat lineup saw four underclassmen - guards Ashley Whisonant and Jessica Arnold and forwards Ché Oh and Whitney Fields - see action during the night, something Jones said may have contributed to Arizona's on-again, off-again play.

"It was just a lot of mental errors," she said. "We're still trying to address playing with young girls and trying to get them mentally tough for the game."

Despite the mistakes, Bonvicini said she saw a lot to like from her young squad.

"(The loss) was frustrating," she said. "Honestly though, I think it was the first time we've played a full game and played well."

Junior guard Linda Pace responded to seeing a career-high 30 minutes with career highs in points (10), rebounds (five), field goal attempts (nine) and field goals made (five).

"At first, I was a little tense after I missed my first two shots, but I got more into the flow of the game and felt a lot more comfortable," she said.

"(Pace) has improved so much from a year ago, not only on the court. I think (she's) just maturing," Bonvicini said. "She's been a leader."

Bonvicini's counterpart on the sidelines, Utah head coach Elaine Elliott, said she was happy to escape Tucson with a win.

"This was a difficult road game. I don't care who you play in the Pac-10 on the road, it's going to be a challenge," she said. "We're happy to get this one."


Sophomore guard Jessie Robinson sang the national anthem prior to tip-off ... Bonvicini said Whisonant pulled a calf muscle during the game, but didn't say if it would keep her out of the lineup when the team takes on Lehigh on Saturday as part of the Fiesta Bowl Classic ... The first 2,000 fans received wristbands in memory of the late Shawntinice Polk, and FSN Arizona used its telecast to help contribute to the Shawntinice S. Polk Endowment Fund ... Utah was 7-of-10 from beyond the arc in the second half ... This was Arizona's first regular-season home game and the team's first competition since going 1-1 last week at the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska. The Wildcats defeated Furman in Tuesday's first round before losing to Central Connecticut State the next day.

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