By Tony Solorzano
Los Angeles – The Arizona Wildcats erased a 14-point UCLA lead to advance to the second round of the Pacific Life PAC-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament with a 61-57 win over the Bruins Thursday afternoon at USC’s Galen Center.
“I’m proud of our team, we dug a hole for ourselves early in the first half but unfortunately we’ve done that type of thing all year,” said Arizona head coach Niya
Butts after the game. “Our girls played hard, we got stops and I think that has been the difference throughout conference play.”
The Bruins collapse came in the second half, as the Wildcats, emboldened by their erasing a 14-point deficit in the first half, never let the Bruins get out of reach. The Bruins twice stretched their lead to seven points, but Whyte and Rhode kept the Wildcats in the mix. Rhode tied the game at 57-57 with 1:20 left in the game, and then Warthen took the lead for good on her jumper with 20.7 seconds left in the game.
In the first half, the Bruins took an early 5-0 lead to start the game but the Wildcats responded and tied it with 15:31 on two free throws by Aley Rhode and a three-pointer from Daveilyn Whyte. But the Bruins answered with a 16-2 run over the next 5:45, pulling out to a 21-7 lead.
The Wildcats responded with their own run, outscoring the Bruins 16-6 over the next five and a half minutes. By the end of the first half, the Wildcats cut the lead to three, closing the first half out down 33-30.
“Obviously a disappointing end to the season, I give a lot of credit to the resilience of Arizona,” said Bruin head coach Cori Close. “We’ll always be looking back at the plays we
could have, should have made, but the reality is, as this team’s coach, they have overcome adversity, they have been resilient and for that, I will be forever grateful.”
Markel Walker led all scorers with 22 in a losing effort for the Bruins, hitting nine of 18 shots and three free throws. Rebekah Gardner ended her career in Westwood with 21 points. No other Bruins scored in double digits. Whyte led the Wildcats with 18 points while Warthen hit for 17 and Shanita Arnold contributed 14 in the win.
The Wildcats will face off against their inter-state Rivals from Arizona State Thursday afternoon at 2:15 for a shot at the Semi0finals on Friday at STAPLES Center. The Sun Devils swept the season series this year.