The Arizona women’s basketball team took its fans on an incredible ride during the regular season this year.
Sunday afternoon’s game was no different.
More than 2,100 fans believed the Wildcats would come away with a big upset in the home finale against No. 9 Oregon State.
And their belief didn’t waver, even when UA (17-12, 7-11 Pac-12) started off a little slow and was down nine after one quarter.
Yet, after more than two hours of play — and two overtimes — the Wildcats came up just short, losing to Oregon State 65-60 at McKale Center.
This is the third time in the last four games — against Stanford, Cal and Oregon State — that the Wildcats couldn’t secure the win despite leading late.
“It’s not a good feeling at all,” said Aari McDonald. “I mean we left everything on the court and we competed with a top-10 team so it’s not too bad. But we definitely have some improvement to do moving on to the Pac-12 tournament.”
UA will be the No. 8 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, and will face No. 9 USC at 3 p.m. Thursday in the first round in Las Vegas.
The Wildcats shot only 29.7 percent Sunday and were 6 of 20 from beyond the arc. They were out-rebounded 57-34. Yet they took Oregon State to two overtimes.
“Today fighting to come back and going to double overtime with a team that’s gone to the Final Four,” said coach Adia Barnes. “Down the stretch it’s very difficult because they’ve been there. We’ve been there this year, but we haven’t been able to get over the hump and win one of those games. We get a little rushed and stagnant. We’ve have some struggles when teams get to the zone and are big.
“They really congest the paint, and we haven’t proven that we can consistently knock down threes. If you were to tell me that we would allow Oregon State to shoot 70 percent in the first couple of minutes and they are going to end the game at 42 percent from the floor.
“And you are going to get outrebounded by 22, I would have said we are going to lose by 30. So because of our defense, because of other things. Because of our passion plays, because of those things.”
Oregon State led much of the way. However, the Wildcats were never too far out of the game, down by only four at the half, 29-25. With three minutes left in regulation, McDonald hit two free throws to give UA a 47-46 lead.
With 22 seconds left, junior Dominique McBryde nailed a 3 to give the Wildcats a 52-50 lead. Oregon State’s Mikayla Pivec answered with a layup with four seconds left to send it into overtime.
Both teams scored four points in the first overtime. In the second overtime, the Wildcats were again limited to only four points, and the Beavers scored nine.
McBryde scored 20 points and pulled down eight rebounds. She was 4 of 7 from beyond the arc.
She had two 3s at crucial moments in the second half. The one at the end of regulation and the other with 2:06 left in the third quarter to bring UA within 36-35.
“Dominique played incredible for us,” said Barnes. “This is what I expect from Dominique every game.
“We’ve been waiting a while, and this is what she is capable of doing this whole season.”
McBryde scored eight of UA’s 13 points in the second quarter. All game she was altering shots and tipping passes on the defensive end.
McDonald led all scorers with 23 points and added six rebounds, six steals and four assists.
Starks says she’ll return
The Wildcats held a ceremony after the game to celebrate the seniors: Tee Tee Starks, Destiny Graham and Lindsey Malecha. In addition, they celebrated Eugenie Simonet-Keller, who medically retired before the start of last season; graduate student manager Maddie Searle; and managers Christian Sheppard, Justin Jones, Alejandro Vega, Austin Lewler, and Paul Eldenmiller.
But Starks surprised everyone, including her coach, as she announced during the ceremony that she will return to play for a fifth season. The transer from Iowa State is averaging 4.4 points and 2.9 rebounds this year.