In basketball, teams either live by the three or they die by the three. Bloodshed was absent in Texas’ physical Sunday matchup against Arizona, but the Longhorns were still destroyed by the Wildcats’ aggressive shooting attack early on.
Arizona shot daggers from the three-point line in the first half as Texas fought for dear life. Ultimately, the blows were ones the Longhorns couldn’t recover from, as they fell to the reigning WNIT champions in a game that saw them outscored 83-58 at the Frank Erwin Center.
“I’m somewhat surprised and puzzled … at how we’re approaching the start of games and our lack of aggression,” Texas head coach Karen Aston said. “But again, I thought Arizona really, really came out and shot the ball well early.”
Texas won the tipoff to start the contest, but not much else went its way for the rest of the first half, which was characterized by poor shooting and turnovers the Wildcats converted into points.
Shortly after the Longhorns gained possession to start the game, senior point guard Sug Sutton dribbled down the court only to be ambushed into a corner by a sea of red. Arizona’s size and defense proved too much for Sutton whose pass to a teammate was intercepted by a Wildcat.
“Credit to that defense,” Sutton said. “They packed the paint really well taking away our post players, taking away drives. So that led us to a bunch of turnovers.”
In subsequent plays, Arizona capitalized off these mistakes by shooting threes, making threes and repeating the cycle.
The Longhorns showed some signs of life in the second half following their abysmal start. Three-point shots from Sutton and senior forward Joyner Holmes, as well as a couple from sophomore center Charli Collier helped cut the deficit in the second half. But their efforts weren’t enough as defense continued to be an issue deep into the second half.
“As much as it looks like our offense is our problem, the fact that we can’t get consecutive stops is a bigger problem for us right now,” Aston said. “I think we’re really struggling defensively.”
Texas eventually tied the Wildcats’ three-point shooting total with nine of its own. However, the Longhorns were less efficient on 26 attempts compared to Arizona’s 21, and a few shots came at a time when Texas’ chances of coming back were slim.
The Wildcats’ shooting attack may have fizzled out in the second half, but their physicality didn’t. Neither did their leading scorer, junior Aari McDonald. The Longhorns’ leading scorers, Collier and Holmes, combined for 28 points. Meanwhile, the Arizona guard scored 44 points — 22 points in each half — all by herself.
“Aari was really good today,” Aston said. “(There was) nothing we could do with her at all. We tried several different things, but we didn’t have an answer for her.”
As the buzzer sounded at the end of the game, “U of A!” chants erupted from the stands as Arizona fans and players celebrated the victory.
Texas, however, was left in a state of confusion about what had just happened and how to move on from it.
“We could’ve shown a lot more and I think we’re capable of a lot more and we weren’t able to show it tonight,” Holmes said. “I don’t really know why. I can’t really give you the true answer. We’ll figure that out in the next couple of days.”