Freshman Marlee Kyles was nervous in the Arizona Wildcats’ first exhibition game last week, and it showed. She almost disappeared in the box score, with no points on eight attempts.
Kyles was more comfortable on Friday. The Wildcats’ backup point guard scored 17 points as Arizona defeated Iona in the teams’ season opener in McKale Center.
“I was nervous in that game and coach was like ‘just have fun,’” the 5-foot-7-inch Kyles said. “JaLea (Bennett) and the upperclassmen were telling us to have fun, just smile.”
Kyles’ first basket came near the end of the first quarter, when she drove the length of the court to tie the game at 14. She followed it up by hitting a jumpshot on the first possession in the next quarter.
Kyles hit 6 of her 13 shots — and all four of her free-throw attempts — to lead the Wildcats in scoring. The game was a nice carryover from the Wildcats’ second exhibition game, where she scored 18 points.
“I’m not worried about Marlee being aggressive,” coach Adia Barnes said. “I can live with the couple of bad shots with her; she still makes those freshman mistakes. But she is always trying. She brings an incredible scoring punch from the bench and doesn’t back down. I like that.”
The Wildcats outscored the Gaels 16-6 in the second quarter and led 30-20 at the half. They piled on 23 points in the third to extend the lead to 53-33.
But then Iona chipped away at the big lead, coming as close as seven points. Sam Thomas’ 3-pointer with just over one minute remaining gave the UA a 10-point lead.
“We went to sleep,” Barnes said. “We made adjustments. We kept our composure. I can exhale now with the first game finally. ... With this young team I didn’t know.
“We had a rough practice yesterday and got all those turnovers out of the way. We showed good things and at times it was fun.”
The Wildcats showed that they can share the ball, scoring 22 field goals on 12 assists.
Five players scored in double figures: In addition to Kyles’ 17 points, Destiny Graham had 15, Kat Wright 13, and Bennett and Thomas scored 10 apiece.
Kyles was especially proud of her six rebounds.
“I am a point guard and the smallest person out there,” she said. “We always joke in practice, I ask coach to put me in the post line to get me some rebounds. Today I just wanted to show her.”
Iona’s Clay returns
- Iona’s Treyanna Clay played at Cienega High School, and was named the Star’s Player of the Year following the 2014-15 season. A cheer went up behind the Gaels bench when she was announced in the starting lineup, as nearly 50 friends and family were here. The 6-foot forward averaged 6.2 points and grabbed 5.3 rebounds per game last year.
Friday, she scored six points and had rebounds.
Her uncle, Darrell Peoples, was so excited to see his niece play that after the game he was “out of breath, like I played. She was nervous yesterday to play in front of the home crowd for the first time. I didn’t think I’d seen her ever play at home. I’ve seen her play in New York, but it’s not the same as at McKale.”
- Arizona’s Taryn Griffey and Eugenie Simonet-Keller collected rebounds and cheered on the Wildcats during warmups. Griffey and Simonet-Keller were both forced to take medical retirements due to injury. Transfers Dominique McBryde, Tee Tee Starks and Aarion McDonald were also active and vocal pre-game.
- Iona’s Ashley Martin took a knee while the UA Pep Band played the national anthem. The Wildcats stood together and locked arms, like they always do.
- Recent UA signee Cate Reese watched the game from the stands. Reese was introduced as a member of the Wildcats’ signing class Thursday.