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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona WBB closes out its regular season against No. 7 USC and No. 8 UCLA

Jada+Williams+of+the+Wildcats+guards+Sun+Devil+Jaddan+Simmons+during+their+game+at+the+McKale+Center+on+Feb.+4.+The+Wildcats+defense+held+strong+through+the+second+half+with+a+final+score+of+52-63.
Jay Corella
Jada Williams of the Wildcats guards Sun Devil Jaddan Simmons during their game at the McKale Center on Feb. 4. The Wildcats defense held strong through the second half with a final score of 52-63.

The Arizona women’s basketball team is set to return to McKale Center, preparing for matchups against No. 7 USC on Thursday, Feb. 29, at 6 p.m., and No. 8 UCLA on Saturday, March 2, at 6 p.m. These games will close out its regular season before the Pac-12 Tournament begins on Wednesday, March 6. Arizona (16-12, 8-8 in Pac-12), winners of four straight, recently secured victories against former No. 3 Stanford University on Friday, Feb. 23, with a score of 68-61, and the University of California, Berkeley, on Sunday, Feb. 25, with a score of 87-68.

The Wildcats’ win over Stanford marked its first road victory since Dec. 17, 2023, when they defeated ASU 91-52. This win was also their second-ranked victory in eight attempts this season.

USC (21-5, 11-5 in Pac-12) heads into the game against Arizona following a loss to No. 18 University of Utah, falling 74-68 to the Utes. However, prior to this loss, the Trojans had won seven straight games, including a victory over the Wildcats on Monday, Feb. 12, where USC defeated Arizona 81-64. UCLA (22-5, 11-5 in Pac-12) is set to face ASU on Thursday, Feb. 29, before facing Arizona on Saturday. The Bruins enter the week on a three-game winning streak, with its most recent game resulting in a 53-45 victory against No. 13 University of Colorado, Boulder.

This week of play will be Arizona’s third time facing back-to-back ranked opponents. However, unlike previous instances, the Wildcats are currently playing some of their best basketball this season, making it an opportune time to face these challenging opponents as they round out their regular season.

Game 1: No. 7 USC – Thursday, Feb. 29, at 6 p.m. 

History vs. USC

Arizona and USC will meet for the 87th time, with the Trojans holding a dominant edge in its all-time series at 57-29. In the last 10 meetings, the Wildcats boast a record of 7-3. However, in the most recent meeting, the Trojans secured a 15-plus point victory at their arena. Despite Arizona’s historical home record of 17-28 against USC, this season, the Wildcats stand at 10-3 at home and have not suffered a home loss since Jan. 28 when they fell to Stanford.

USC’s season

Since its last meeting with Arizona, USC has notched an impressive 3-1 record in its four following games. The streak began with a resounding 88-51 victory over the University of Oregon on Feb. 16. Then the Trojans faced the No. 11 Oregon State University on Feb. 18, the Trojans secured a hard-fought 58-50 win. USC continued its winning ways against former No. 11 Colorado on Feb. 23, winning with a final score of 87-81. However, its streak was halted on Feb. 25 as it faced No. 18 Utah, resulting in a 74-68 defeat.

During this four-game stretch, the Trojans star-studded freshman guard JuJu Watkins has been the driving force for USC. Currently leading both her team and the Pac-12 in scoring with an impressive 28.2 points per game, Watkins also tops her team in assists (3.4) and steals (2.6), ranking 11th and tied for second-best in the conference, respectively. In the last four games, Watkins has elevated her performance, averaging 30.7 points on 38% shooting from the field. Her ability to maintain consistency across her game will be crucial as USC faces Arizona, which appears to be hitting its peak.

Another player to watch out for on USC is guard McKenzie Forbes. As the team’s second-leading scorer with an average of 13.6 ppg and is second on the team in assists with 3.3 per game, Forbes continues to demonstrate her consistent play as well during the recent four-game stretch. Averaging 14.7 points on 41.2% shooting from the field. Both Forbes and Watkins remain the backbone of the team’s offense. With both players remaining to play some of their best basketball as well, their play will be vital to USC’s hopes of getting back in the win column and moving up the Pac-12 standings.

Game 2: No. 8 UCLA – Saturday, March. 2, at 6 p.m. 

History vs. UCLA

Arizona meets UCLA for its 89th meeting this weekend, and similar to USC, the Bruins also hold an overwhelming advantage in the all-time series against the Wildcats at 65-23. Even in the last 10 meetings, UCLA edges out Arizona at 6-4 and has defeated the Wildcats in their last two meetings. The most recent encounter took place on Feb. 9, where the Bruins outlasted the Wildcats to win 66-58. Arizona’s home record is only 14-28 against UCLA, but the fact remains that Arizona has been an incredibly impressive team at home this season. With all three of its losses coming against ranked opponents, however, given their most recent play, they will look to end this trend this week.

UCLA’s season 

Since the last meeting with Arizona, UCLA has played five games, securing an impressive 4-1 record in this stretch. The first matchup was against ASU on Feb. 11, where the Bruins dominated the Sun Devils, securing a commanding 78-45 victory. Despite facing a closely contested battle against Oregon State on Feb. 16, resulting in a nail-biting 79-77 loss, UCLA swiftly bounced back. The third game took place on Feb. 18 against Oregon, marking a return to the win column for the Bruins with a convincing 74-55 win.

Continuing their winning ways, the fourth game took place on Feb. 22 and saw the Bruins blow out Utah with an 82-52 victory. The fifth and most recent game came against Colorado on Feb. 26, resulting in UCLA outlasting the Buffaloes, securing their third consecutive win with a 53-45 victory.

Turning the spotlight to the player to watch out for on UCLA, first is its sophomore center Lauren Betts, currently leading the team in points (14.9), rebounds (8.4) and blocks (2.1) per game. In the recent five-game stretch, Betts averaged 15 points on 59.6% shooting from the field. While Betts maintained her point average, she was slightly below her shooting percentage compared to her season field goal percentage of 66.2%, which will be something to keep an eye on when the Bruins face the Wildcats this weekend. The second player to watch out for on UCLA is sophomore guard KiKi Rice, UCLA’s third-leading scorer at 12.9 ppg and the team leader in assists with 4.6 per game. Over the last five games, Rice has displayed steady performance, averaging 13.2 ppg on 45.5% shooting from the field — slightly above her season averages. Rice’s ability to elevate her production when necessary positions her as a crucial asset, especially as the Bruins prepare to face Arizona, who are currently playing some of the best basketball this season.

Wildcats to watch 

Freshman guard Jada Williams led the way in Arizona’s upset victory over Stanford on Friday. This victory was the Wildcats’ first on the road against the Cardinal in over 20 years. The Wildcats had lost seven straight to the Cardinal prior to this win, but with only seven players dressed, Williams led her team to a win over one of the best teams in the country with a 23 point, four rebound and two steal performance. However, Williams did not stop there; in their next game of the week against Cal, she was the Wildcats’ second leading scorer with 18 points to help them push the Golden Bears and sweep both Bay Area schools on the road for the first time since 2000-2001.

With the recent departure of sophomore guard Kailyn Gilbert, who averaged 15.1 ppg leading Arizona in scoring this season, the Wildcats now look toward Williams, who is averaging 9.6 ppg this season; however, in the Wildcats’ last four games, she is averaging 15.2 ppg to help fill the role Gilbert is leaving behind as the Wildcats prepare to extend their current winning streak.

However, Williams is not the only Wildcat that people should be watching out for; fifth-year forward Esmery Martinez continues to impress. Martinez added 17 points and nine rebounds as the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer and leading rebounder in their victory against Stanford. Then, in their matchup against Cal, Martinez showed out with a near triple-double performance of 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, all while committing no turnovers. The seven assists tied her career high, and her 20 points marked the third time this season she’s scored 20, all of which the Wildcats are 2-1 in games she does, with the one loss coming in double-overtime to Oregon State in a 73-70 point loss.

This season, Martinez is Arizona’s second-leading scorer at 11.8 ppg but leads the team in rebounds at 6.6 rebounds per game and is tied for second in assists and steals at 2.3 and 1.9 per game, respectively. All this is to say, with Gilbert now gone and the team currently only having eight active players available, both Martinez and Williams will need to be at their best now more than ever, and even more so Martinez, given her seniority and just overall experience. This is a perfect chance for her to take full reins of the team and lead this team past another tough two-game stretch as they prepare to face USC and UCLA.


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