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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats squander late lead

    Arizona 71, USC 77

    The first conference win of the season was just moments away for the Wildcats, but poor shot selection and a savvy opponent led to the latest episode of a five-game losing streak.

    The Arizona women’s basketball team (7-9, 0-5 Pacific-10 Conference) will now have to wait another game to win their first game against a Pac-10 team, as they fell to USC 77-71 in overtime in McKale Center on Thursday night.

    “”I thought we played hard,”” said head coach Niya Butts. “”But we had some let-ups, and unfortunately that cost us the game.””

    The Wildcats got off to a fast start and took an 11-0 lead before the Trojans could catch their breath. However, with the lead and the momentum heavily in their favor, the Wildcats’ offense suddenly became conservative and gave USC a chance to come back.

    The Trojans started the second half with a 42-34 lead, but the Wildcats were able to climb back into the game. Freshman Reiko Thomas drained a 3-pointer four minutes into the half to give Arizona a 45-44 lead.

    That cushion would grow over the next few minutes, and halfway through the second half the Wildcats again had a comfortable double-digit advantage. And again, the Wildcat offense lost the lead by playing timidly on both offense and defense.

    The Trojans tied the game by the end of regulation, and proceeded to dominate in overtime – they outscored Arizona 12-6 – to seal the victory.

    “”We allowed them to get back into the game,”” Butts said about the Wildcats giving up 10-point leads on two occasions. “”We weren’t able to get any stops, and we couldn’t execute. We were tired and we played that way.””

    Sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe and Thomas carried the Wildcats down the stretch and kept them in the game despite being outplayed. Perhaps the turning point in the game was when Thomas drove hard to the basket and then kicked it out to Ibekwe with 2:34 left in the game. While the basket gave the Wildcats a 63-60 lead, Thomas went down with an ankle sprain and had to leave the contest.

    From then on, USC caught the Wildcat defense on its heels and scored four points in less than 15 seconds.

    Ibekwe finished the night with 20 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks – all game-highs. Her most crucial moment came as time expired, when she blocked USC Camille LeNoir’s running jumper from the top of the key.

    “”I did my best to help us win,”” Ibekwe said, still frustrated about the close loss. “”I just tried to block shots and get rebounds so that we could turn around and score.””

    With a fifth-straight loss in conference play, the Wildcats are certainly on the outside looking in at this talented conference.

    Arizona has put up valiant efforts in four of its five conference games, as well as a better-than-expected turnout against Texas A&M earlier in the season. Three of those six games were against top-10 teams nationally, and the Wildcats’ effort in those matches is drawing notice.

    “”I think Coach Butts is doing a great job and that starting five is pretty darn good,”” USC head coach Mark Trakh said after the game. “”They have some excellent players, and once they get some depth they’re going to be good.””

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