Cats push home win streak to 30
The No. 24 Arizona women's basketball team scored the first 11 points in its game against UTEP last night in McKale Center and never looked back, defeating the Miners 79-47. With the win, Arizona improved to 4-1 on the early season and recorded its 30th consecutive home win.
"We want to make this one of the worst places to come and play in the country," said senior point guard Dee-Dee Wheeler. "We have a great team and we love playing at home. Teams are going to be out to basically break that streak."
The Miners were kept scoreless for the first 4:19 of the game before UTEP freshmen forward Kasia Krezel scored a 3-pointer. The Arizona defense silenced UTEP for another 5:21 to take a 20-5 lead. The home team went on 22-8 run for the remainder of the half, leading by as many as 31 points. Junior guard Natalie Jones recorded 11 points on the run, including two shots from downtown and a field goal with only a second remaining before halftime.
"I told (Natalie Jones) she can be more of an offensive threat," said UA head coach Joan Bonvicini. "I have a great deal of confidence in her, she's a good player. It's nice to see her out to shoot the 3. She is starting to really understand the game. She knew which way to go (before the buzzer). She's just reading things a lot better."
The Wildcats headed into the locker room with a 27-point lead at 44-17. Both teams were knotted with 15 rebounds on the half but Arizona capitalized on 19 UTEP turnovers.
UTEP scored first once play resumed on a shot from downtown but after that it was also Arizona, as the Wildcats would later score 14 consecutive points to lead 64-26. For the first time this season, Arizona outscored its opponent in the second half, 35-30.
As a team, the Wildcats connected on 48 percent of their shots from the floor and 57 percent from beyond the arc. Arizona held UTEP to 33 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range. The Wildcats continued to struggle from the free-throw line, however, shooting just 54 percent from the stripe, compared to the Miners' 77 percent. Arizona out-rebounded UTEP 36 to 33 and scored 44 of its points from UTEP's 34 turnovers.
"We're starting to shoot the 3 better. Our field goal percentage is pretty good, we got to get our free throw percentage up and our rebounding needs to get better," Bonvicini said. "We're still getting some fouls. I thought defensively we were pretty good, we forced them away from what they like to do. They have a lot of good players but we didn't really give them a lot of looks."
Ten of Arizona's 11 available athletes scored in the game with Jones leading the offense, posting a game-high 17 points, four assists and three rebounds.
"My teammates have been telling me I have to be confident," Jones said. "The coaches were telling me I need to shoot the ball and help the team out. And I kind of took it personally with the pressure always being on Dee-Dee and Polkey. I felt that I needed to help them out."
Wheeler collected 16 points, five steals, three assists, two rebounds and one blocked shot on the night. Shawntinice Polk, Shannon Hobson and Jessica Arnold each contributed nine points apiece. In addition, Polk had a team-high six boards.
The Wildcats return to McKale Center Saturday at 3:30 p.m. to take on UNC-Greensboro in the Mission Management and Trust Fiesta Bowl Classic. Action continues Sunday as Arizona competes in the consolation or championship game against either Delaware or Weber State at 1 or 3:30 p.m.