LAS VEGAS–Arizona women’s basketball couldn’t overcome an abysmal shooting performance Thursday in a 45-43 loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament quarter-finals. Despite the loss, the Wildcats coach Adia Barnes was optimistic after the game, turning his attention to what the team needs to do to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Here are three key takeaways from the loss.
Lauren Ware must be as assertive as she was on Thursday
Ware learned from one of the Pac-12’s top forwards while playing alongside Catherine Reese the last two years. So much so that sometimes Reese’s presence interferes with Ware’s aggression on the field because she knows who’s next to her in the paint. With Reese out on Thursday recovering from a lingering shoulder injury, Ware was forced into a bigger role, and the second delivered. Ware was Arizona’s only double-digit scorer (15), making her presence felt throughout the game with her physicality. Ware forced Colorado to 10 fouls and she took advantage of her opportunity at the charity tape, making nine of 10 free throws.
“It’s just something I think I should do all the time,” Ware said. “I think now with Cate out we obviously have a big deficit in those two areas of scoring and rebounding. So the coaches kind of put that on me to be more aggressive and take more good shots and be more aggressive on the offensive side, and on the defensive side as well, with rebounds at both ends and I think I did better job of that.
Defensively, Ware blocked two shots and assisted on three more blocks. At 6ft 5in, she has the length and wingspan to be an elite disrupter. Without Reese on the court, Ware used every bit of that height advantage. Two of Ware’s four best rebounding performances this season have come in the last two games. Her two blocks on Thursday tied a conference high (she had two against Utah). She also played more minutes in the final two games than any previous game in her college career.
“For a big girl to play 37 minutes is a lot,” Barnes said. “So it’s probably best that we don’t have a game right now so she can rest her body. But she’s been great.
When Reese returns for the NCAA Tournament, Arizona will need Ware to maintain its productivity from the final playoff games.
Cate Reese’s recovery appears to be ahead of schedule
Fortunately for Arizona, the return of Cate Reese is no longer a hypothesis but a certainty. Barnes said it after Colorado’s loss. Reese, Arizona’s leading scorer and rebounder, was seen sitting on the bench without a sling for her right shoulder. Reese was apparently so quick in her recovery that Barnes considered playing her in the Pac-12 tournament.
“I could have insisted as a coach and brought Cate back this week, but that wouldn’t be constructive and it wouldn’t be productive for the (NCAA) tournament,” Barnes said. “If I had to choose, if we maybe went to the Finals (Pac-12) to get Cate back, but the NCAA is what we need and what we need to be successful. So we’ll have Cate back.”
The importance of Reese’s presence cannot be underestimated. Since Reese’s injury in the second half at Washington State, Arizona has lost three of four games.
“The positive thing for us is that there is time. We won’t be playing for almost two and a half weeks so that’s a lot of time for people to get better and she’ll be fine by then,” Barnes said. “She’s already started shooting and stuff, so we were all happy with that. So we’ll be full soon.
Arizona needs to figure out its endgame plan
When the game is in play as it was in the dying seconds Thursday, Arizona must figure out who gets the ball and does what with it. The Wildcats had a pair of second looks against Colorado, and neither attempt came close. Trailing by two with 15 seconds remaining, Arizona put the ball back in the paint to Ware, who gave it to koi love for a disputed double-team layup that missed the rim. When Arizona got the ball back with the same score and two seconds left, Sam Thomas made a pass at Shaina Pellingtonwho threw an errant three-pointer that didn’t catch the rim.
Pellington has a few winners to her name this season, but as a 26% 3-point shooter, it doesn’t make sense why she would be the shooter in this situation. Likewise, Ware was a better option than Love to score on the previous possession, even though she faced a ton of pressure in the paint all game. The biggest question mark in the final seconds is why Thomas was the one sending the ball to Pellington rather than being on the pitch. As Arizona’s most experienced player and one of its best shooters, Thomas should have at least been an option.
Once Reese is healthy, Arizona will regain its upper perimeter and post threats. But even counting Reese, this isn’t a team that has a clear plan for what they want to do in late game situations. Barnes and his team will have to work out their final scenarios in the next two weeks or Arizona could find themselves in a similar situation in the NCAA Tournament as in Pac-12. And unlike Thursday, there will be no luck later.