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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Wildcats rally past NMSU 68-64 to overcome poor start

Behind 31 combined points from Taryn Griffey and Malena Washington, and a dominant fourth quarter performance by Breanna Workman, the Arizona women’s basketball team rallied to defeat New Mexico State 68-64 at McKale Center on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats (5-1) got off to a dismal start and didn’t score their first point until about six minutes into the first quarter, while also struggling to take care of the ball.

As a result, the team quickly found itself down 13-0 to start the game.

“[We] definitely didn’t start the game with any type of urgency and we need to do a better job of that and we have to control our turnovers,” Arizona women’s basketball head coach Niya Butts said.

The Aggies’ full court press and zone defense was giving the Wildcats fits.

“We were careless with the basketball,” Butts said. “We weren’t getting to our spots the way we needed to in a zone. To their credit, they’re in the positions they’re supposed to be in…so the other team always has something to do with it.”

The Wildcats did get a much needed spark from Griffey at the end of the quarter, however, as she hit two three pointers to cut their deficit from 23-7 to 23-13 heading into the second quarter.

“I just felt like somebody needed to give everybody energy and I felt like I’d be that person today,” Griffey said. “But…we looked fairly bad coming out, but I’m really glad that I got the green light to shoot it.”

She finished the game with 14 points, and her pair of threes would be the start of a 15-1 run for Arizona, which trimmed NMSU’s lead to 24-22 midway through the second quarter.

As much as the team struggled out of the gate, the Wildcats were down by just one point at the half thanks to a tremendous effort on the glass. Arizona outrebounded NMSU 39 to 29 and Dejza James had 11 rebounds in the first half alone.

The two teams would trade baskets for most of the third quarter, and the Wildcats would take their first lead of the game with just over six minutes left in the quarter after a layup by James. New Mexico State would respond with a bucket of its own and then a buzzer-beating three-pointer to take a 49-45 lead heading into the final of quarter of play.

In the fourth quarter, the teams continued to stay neck and neck. JaLea Bennett scored four points for the Wildcats to start the quarter, but the Aggies would answer back both times.

It seemed like the Aggies had a chance to pull away when Michal Miller banked in a deep three to put them up by five points with just about six minutes left, but then Washington and Workman took over for Arizona.

Washington would respond to NMSU’s banked in three-pointer with an and-one to make it 58-56, and then Workman came up with a steal, dishing it ahead to Washington, who would lay it in to tie the game at 58.

An old-fashioned three-point play would allow NMSU to retake a 61-58 lead, but Workman and Washington would then respond with six unanswered points to put the Wildcats back ahead 64-61.

“She was huge,” Butts said of Workman. “She made plays there for us at the end, getting a couple of offensive rebounds and she got a putback there at the end to go for an and-one.”

As was a common theme of this game, though, no lead was safe. NMSU’s Sasha Weber would hit a long three-pointer to tie things up.

Now knotted up at 64 with about a minute left, Griffey would miss a three-point attempt, but Workman, again, was there to clean it up to put the Wildcats up 66-64.

Bennett would get a steal on the ensuing possession, which forced NMSU to foul. Washington would step to the line for a chance to ice the game, and despite the team struggling from the free throw line all game, she would drain both and the Wildcats would win 68-64.

“The last three games we’ve done a really good job of getting to the line,” Butts said. “The only problem is, we’re not doing a good job of knocking down our free throws. Tonight, we were 14-25. That’s not very good.”

Washington finished with a team-high 17 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter.

“I was so impressed by how aggressive she was at the end of the ball game,” Butts said of Washington. “We needed that.”

The Wildcats had 22 turnovers and missed 11 free throws in what was not an aesthetically pleasing win to say the least. At the same time, there’s no denying the team’s resiliency to rebound from the early 13-point deficit.

“Mentality has a lot to do with it,” Workman said. “I know that all five people on the court have the same mentality, and we’re never going to quit. As group I don’t think anyone on the team is a quitter, and no matter what we’re going to stay together and we’re gonna fight back.”

The team will look to capture its third straight win against Pacific on Saturday. Tipoff is at 1 p.m at McKale Center.

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter.

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