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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona upsets Oregon in opening round of Pac-12 tournament

Arizona+guard+JaLea+Bennett+%2833%29+jumps+back+while+shooting+over+a+USC+athlete+in+McKale+Center+on+Friday%2C+Feb.+5.
Munir Tufail
Arizona guard JaLea Bennett (33) jumps back while shooting over a USC athlete in McKale Center on Friday, Feb. 5.

The No. 11-seeded Arizona women’s basketball team will live to play another day as it upset the No. 6-seeded Oregon Ducks 74-68 in the opening round of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.

“It’s March,” Arizona head coach Niya Butts said. “Anything can happen in March.”

LaBrittney Jones scored a season-high 26 points, while Malena Washington and Breanna Workman each had 14 points of their own, as the Wildcats withstood a fourth-quarter Oregon run on the way to the victory.

“They did it together,” Butts said. “They stayed together even on the bench, even when Oregon made their run and so I’m proud of this group.”

After outscoring the Ducks 22-7 in the second quarter, the Wildcats held a 12-point lead heading into halftime. After Jones scored eight of her 26 points in the third quarter and Workman hit a 3-pointer right before the buzzer, Arizona’s lead would remain the same heading into the final quarter.

The Ducks, however, would heat up in the fourth quarter, scoring 28 points, and would slowly chip away at Arizona’s lead.

A layup and two free throws by Maite Cazorla would cut the Wildcats’ lead to 67-62 with three minutes and 13 seconds left. Jacinta Vandenberg would then tack on another pair of free throws a minute later to make it a 67-64 game.

The Wildcats had trouble closing out games this season, blowing a five-point lead with a minute to go on Senior Day a couple of weeks ago. That wouldn’t be the case this time, however.

“Me, [Jones] and [Washington] stayed calm for the rest of our team,” Workman said. “We didn’t get too frantic or worried about it. [We] kept running the offense, keep doing the things we needed to do, keep pushing at them.”

The team hit five of its six free-throw attempts down the stretch and got the stops it needed to seal the victory over the Ducks.

“We did it with our defense at the end,” Butts said. “We were able to make enough plays and we were able to get some production offensively. I’m so proud of our group for playing tough today.”

It was announced Tuesday that Butts won’t be returning to the program next season. The players found this to be a perfect opportunity to show their gratitude for their soon-to-be-departing head coach,and they capitalized.

“She did a lot for us and that’s the best way to show our appreciation is to get this win,” Workman said.

Jones also said since the team is aware this is the coaching staff’s last time, the team “wanted to give it our all for them.”

For Butts, it was her chance to thank the UA.

“I’m happy to be here for as long as I can,” Butts said. “I want to take this opportunity where I have a national audience to say thanks to everybody at Arizona, from our fans, to the [athletic director], to administration. Those people have been fantastic to me and I am so grateful, extremely humbled and blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of something special. … I will tell everybody that will listen to me that it’s a great place.”

Meanwhile, the season will continue for at least one more game: A matchup against the No. 3-seeded UCLA Bruins on Friday at 3 p.m.

“The idea in March is to win the game in front of you,” Butts said. “We took care of Oregon today … we get the opportunity to play against UCLA and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

UCLA beat Arizona when the two teams squared off earlier in the season but, as Butts said, anything can happen in March.


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter.


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