By Ron Parsons
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Brenda Pantoja led the Arizona women's basketball team back from a 12-point halftime deficit to defeat Wake Forest 63-47 yesterday in the final of the Copper Bowl Classic.
The Wildcats (2-0) defeated Wake Forest (2-3) in front of 1,285 fans at the McKale Center to reclaim the tournament title they lost last year to Oklahoma State.
Pantoja, a senior guard, was named the tournament's most valuable player. She led the Wildcats with 19 points and eight assists and was 3 for 9 from beyond the 3-point line.
Two of those 3-pointers came late in the first half, when Wake Forest had an 18-point lead, its biggest of the game.
"Brenda's a hell of a player. She's smart and our team is a reflection of her," UA head coach Joan Bonvicini said. "Believe me, she deserves this honor. She's the MVP because she's the critical person on our team."
Wake Forest jumped to an early lead behind the shooting of junior forward RaeAnna Mulholland and freshman guard Heidi Coleman. Mulholland had 13 first-half points and Coleman added 10.
The Demon Deacons were able to push the lead to double figures by hitting the boards. Center Tracy Connor had 10 rebounds in the first half and Wake Forest led in team rebounds 25-13.
Bonvicini said she had a few choice words for her team at the break about being aggressive on the boards.
"We were just playing, basically, scared and intimidated," she said. "They're a taller team than us but we weren't putting a body on people. I laid into the team at halftime. I questioned their character."
The second half was all Arizona's. The Wildcats, behind Pantoja and sophomore center Marte Alexander, outscored the Demon Deacons 45-17.
Alexander was 6 for 9 from the field and had 12 points.
"She's 6-foot-4 and really letting her presence show," Bonvicini said of Alexander. "She made her shots inside and I just felt she was an intimidating force."
When she wasn't pulling up for perimeter jumpers, Pantoja was penetrating the lane and passing the ball to Arizona interior players. She said Wake Forest's defense gave her openings in the second half to drive the lane.
"I'm not too much of a penetrator," Pantoja said. "I like to shoot the ball more than anything but they had a bunch of holes in the defense, and I'm not a one-dimensional player who just looks for jumpers."
Sophomore forward Adia Barnes, in early foul trouble, also got on track in the second half, scoring eight of her 10 points.
Three Wildcats were named to the All-Tournament team, which included San Francisco's Brittany Lindhe, Wake Forest's Tracy Connor, Wake Forest's Gretchen Hollifield, and Arizona's Constand, Barnes and Pantoja.
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In the first game of the tournament Friday night, Arizona got a career-high 22 points from Andrea Constand and strong bench play in a 80-61 victory over Wyoming. It was the Wildcats' first game of the season.
Alexander and guard Crank made the most of their floor time. Alexander spelled Clark at center and had eight points and three rebounds.
Crank had two points but grabbed five rebounds, three of them on the defensive end.
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