Sam Thomas told Aari McDonald that she was a little nervous before the game.
This isn’t something that McDonald expected to hear, but there was a good reason.
Thomas went out and put on a clinic.
From the jump, she stole the ball and went coast-to-coast to score the first points of the game.
And just filled the stat sheet from there, leading the UA women’s basketball team to a comeback victory over Santa Clara 65-52 Friday night at McKale Center.
“I’m glad she is more comfortable and more aggressive. I just need her to keep doing more of what she’s doing,” McDonald said. Thomas finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three blocks and one steal.
It wasn’t easy.
After jumping to a 20-11 first-quarter lead UA scored only four points and went 1 for 10 from the field in the second quarter.
Arizona didn’t score in the final five minutes of the half and went into the locker room down 27-24. In that quarter, the Broncos weren’t giving the Wildcats much space in the paint, which is where the bulk of their scoring had been — 16 of their 24 points.
More of the same in the second half until the end of the third when everyone picked up their defensive intensity. Dominique McBryde got a steal, passed to McDonald for a layup. Thomas followed with a scramble to disrupt a pass.
But, it wasn’t until the beginning of the fourth quarter when coach Adia Barnes put in an old starting lineup of McDonald, McBryde, Thomas, Lucia Alonso and Cate Reese that it all started clicking.
The Wildcats scored four quick points to take the lead — 47-46 — forcing Santa Clara to call a timeout with 9:09 left in the game.
Thomas got a block, McBryde followed with a strip and the offense went to work. Alonso (two), Thomas (one) and McBryde (one) all hit 3s.
“Lucia was huge tonight. She came in and hit big shots,” Barnes said. “I made some adjustments on how we were defending the pick and roll. … Fourth quarter we stepped up and really wanted it. … They showed heart tonight. … We found a way. The crowd was awesome tonight.”
Alonso now has 106 three-pointers in her career.
McDonald had a game-high 20 points for the Wildcats (2-0), who visit Chicago State on Tuesday.