It was set to be Ify Ibekwe’s night. Instead, the game belonged to Cate Reese.
The freshman forward led the Wildcats (4-1) to a 73-32 rout against South Carolina State in their first game back from the Bank of Hawaii Classic.
Reese posted her second career double-double on 19 points and 16 rebounds in 27 minutes of play.
“I’m happy. My teammates got me the ball,” Reese said. “I think I could have made more of my shots, but I think that our team is pretty selfless.
“The coaches emphasized rebounding, so I think that’s why I was working harder on getting rebounds today and preparing for the Pac-12.”
Ibekwe, who played for Arizona from 2007-11, was celebrated during halftime as the Wildcats added her name to the McKale Center rafters — only the fifth women’s basketball player in the Ring of Honor. Coach Adia Barnes was the first athlete in program history to get the distinction for her time at Arizona, 1995-98.
After finishing her Arizona career, Ibekwe was the all-time leader in rebounds (1,194) and double-doubles (55). She is second in blocks (166), fourth in points (1,653 points) and fifth in steals (228). While at Arizona, Ibekwe was a two-time All-American, a three-time All-Pac-10 honoree, a Pac-10 All-Freshman honoree and was the 2011 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
Barnes had Ibekwe talk to the team and provide a little extra motivation.
“I wanted her to tell them, ‘hey, go for your goals. This is what I would do differently,’” Barnes said. “She’s played all over the world, from Belgium, to Turkey and South Korea. And she’s still playing now. … If you have aspirations, you go after it.”
The Wildcats pounced early, jumping to a 14-2 lead after a 10-0 run, but the Bulldogs recovered to close the gap to 17-10 by the end of the first quarter. After a few early points, the Bulldogs struggled to find the net and allowed Arizona to go on another run — this time 17-2.
By the half, Arizona led 34-17.
In the third quarter, the Bulldogs tried to claw back, but were outscored by six points as UA built its lead to 23.
In the fourth quarter, the Wildcats didn’t allow South Carolina State to score until Jael Jackson made 1 of 3 from the free throw line with less than a minute left to play. Arizona had already added 20 points by then.
Arizona’s Aari McDonald entered Friday’s game as the nation’s leading scorer, averaging 29.5 points per game, but the high-scoring heroics weren’t needed this time around. Instead, scoring was distributed among eight players.
McDonald finished with 15 points, while Dominique McBryde added 10, Bryce Nixon had nine and Semaj Smith had eight.
The bench contributed 22 points. It was the first time this season McBryde scored in double figures. The redshirt junior knows she hasn’t reached her full potential yet.
“I just have to keep playing hard, doing what I can control and not let points be my sole focus,” McBryde said. “Just being an all-around player.”
The Wildcats finished with 29 of 64 field goal shooting, 6 of 19 on 3-pointers and 9 of 14 from the line.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, were held to 20 percent shooting from the field.
“I think we’ve been working really hard on defense and it paid off,” Reese said.
The Wildcats tied their program record for fewest points allowed.
Kiana Barkhoff, a sophomore forward, left the Arizona program the day before the team left to Hawaii.
Barnes said she believed the decision from her player, who came from Florida and had 22 appearances last season as a freshman, came from wanting to be closer to home. The move was made possible by NCAA’s new transfer rule, which allows players to leave any time after Oct. 15.
Barnes said she and her coaching staff are currently working with Barkhoff to find her a program that will better suit her.
“It is about the athlete’s experience,” Barnes said. “If you’re not happy here, I don’t want you to be here.
“If it’s too far away from home, if it’s too hot or something — it’s fine, but you need to be happy to play your best.”