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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona WBB faces Washington in Pac-12 Tournament opener

Arizonas+Courtney+Blakely+dribbles+the+ball+looking+for+a+pass+during+the+USC+game+in+Mckale+Center+on+Feb.+29.+Arizona+lost+95-93.+
Danielle Main
Arizona’s Courtney Blakely dribbles the ball looking for a pass during the USC game in Mckale Center on Feb. 29. Arizona lost 95-93.

The Arizona women’s basketball team is set to begin its play in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. Arizona (16-14, 8-10 in Pac-12) will face the University of Washington (16-13, 6-12 in Pac-12) in the first round on Wednesday, March 6, at 7 p.m. in MGM Grand Garden Arena.

The Wildcats concluded their regular season with losses to No. 7 USC and No. 8 UCLA. They fell to the Trojans on Thursday, Feb. 29, in double-overtime, 95-93, and then faced the Bruins on Saturday, March 2, losing 61-41.

Despite entering the game on the back of two losses, the Wildcats are battle-tested, having faced 11 ranked opponents this season, the most in school history. Eight of those matchups were against top-10 teams. It’s fair to say this team has had a challenging journey, but they’ve reached the tournament and will be prepared to face Washington.

The Huskies enter the game after arguably their best win of the season, defeating former No. 18 University of Utah 62-47 on Saturday, March 2. Washington has overcome adversity and seems to be hitting its stride at the right time, winning three of its last four games as it prepares to face Arizona.

History vs. Washington

Arizona and Washington will be meeting for the 73rd time, but the third time this calendar year. All-time Washington has the clear edge at 44-28, but this year these teams are 1-1 against one another. The last meeting took place on Feb. 18 and resulted in the Wildcats winning in triple-overtime 90-82 at home. In their meeting before this, they faced one another on Jan. 19 and in that game, the Huskies outlasted the Wildcats to win 62-60 at their place. With it only being 10 points that separate these two teams, and in their upcoming matchup being played in a neutral environment, this game can truthfully go either way given how close these two teams have been to one another recently.

Washington’s season

Since the last meeting with Arizona, Washington has played four games, securing a 3-1 record in this stretch. The victories include wins against the University of Oregon, former No. 9 Oregon State University and Utah, while its sole loss came against the former No. 13 University of Colorado, Boulder. In this recent stretch, the Huskies faced three ranked opponents, going 2-1, compared to their earlier season performance against ranked teams where they went 2-6.

Leading the way for Washington in this recent stretch were senior forward Lauren Schwartz and junior forward Dalayah Daniels. Schwartz, the team’s leading scorer this season averaging 12.2 ppg on 44.9% shooting from the field, displayed an impressive surge, averaging 15 points on 61.3% shooting during the four-game stretch. Meanwhile, Daniels, who leads the team in rebounds and steals at seven and 1.8, respectively, is also the team’s third leading scorer, averaging 11.8 ppg on 44.8% shooting. Her recent stretch saw an uptick in performance as well, averaging 14 points on 47.8% shooting. As the regular season has concluded and the Pac-12 Tournament begins, Schwartz and Daniels, along with the rest of the Washington team, are playing its best basketball. Despite the challenges earlier in the season, it is undeniable that this team has addressed its issues and is clicking at the right time, with arguably its two best players serving as the backbone to position the Huskies favorably against the Wildcats in the upcoming first round of the tournament.

Wildcats to watch 

The first player to keep an eye on as Arizona prepares to face Washington is fifth-year forward Esmery Martinez. As one of the most seasoned players on the team, Martinez’s performance this season reflects her experience. Despite not posting the most eye-popping numbers, Martinez currently leads the Wildcats in scoring, averaging 11.2 points per game on 42.2% shooting from the field, following the departure of Kailyn Gilbert. Additionally, she leads Arizona in rebounding with 6.3 per game.

In the first meeting with the Huskies, although the Wildcats fell short, Martinez delivered a double-double performance, scoring 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. In the following matchup against Washington, Martinez showcased her versatility with a 3-point, seven-rebound, four-assist and two-steal performance, helping the Wildcats secure the triple-overtime victory. Her ability to be a leading scorer in a closely contested game and then seamlessly transition into focusing on other facets of the game, such as rebounding, defending and facilitating, to position Arizona for its best chance at success, highlights the savviness Martinez possesses. She has the ability to quickly read the type of game she is in, understand which player has the hot hand on the team and take a back seat if that means her team will be in the best position to win.

The second player to watch out for in this game on the Wildcats is fifth-year guard Helena Pueyo, the team’s second most experienced player, who shares similarities with Martinez in her consistent and versatile play style. In the first matchup against Washington, Pueyo scored only 2 points but showcased an impactful defensive presence with six rebounds, three steals and one block. In their following meeting with the Huskies, Pueyo flipped the script, recording a season-high 22 points, along with eight rebounds and four assists, while playing 55 minutes of regulation and each of the three overtimes — the most minutes played in a single game by a Pac-12 player since at least 1999-2000. Pueyo’s unselfish and high-level play, coupled with her ability to adapt to any opponent, makes her an ideal counterpart to Martinez. As they prepare to face Washington for the third time, all eyes should be on these two players to witness the kind of display they will put on to help Arizona defeat Washington and make it to the quarterfinals of the tournament.


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