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The No. 4 seeded Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball team lives to see another day after a 72-67 victory over No. 13 seeded University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The Wildcats leaned on senior guard Shaina Pellington in their comeback win in Tucson.
Pellington cooked the Rebels’ defense on her way to a 30-point scoring night. To put her outing in perspective, only one other Wildcat reached double figures on Saturday.
“Once I start hitting three’s I am really in my element. I just felt super comfortable,” Pellington said.
UNLV did give Arizona all it had in this first-round matchup. Four Rebels scored in double figures, including sophomore center Desi-Rae Young who finished the game with 16 points.
UA trailed at multiple points in the game, most notably heading into the fourth quarter when Arizona was down five. Even so, improved shooting in the second half ultimately led to the win.
Senior forward Cate Reese helped the Wildcats eventually take over the fourth and final quarter. Reese finished the game with 16 points, three rebounds, an assist and a steal. UA outscored UNLV in the final 10 minutes of play by a score of 24 to 14.
The Rebels turned the ball over a whopping 19 teams, compared to the Wildcats who only turned it over seven times. Arizona’s defensive pressure evidently caused fits for the Rebels’ offense late in the game.
“I don’t like that they shot 53 percent, but hey it’s March and that’s what happens,” Arizona Coach Adia Barnes said.
If it weren’t for the Wildcats’ defensive improvements in the fourth quarter this one might have ended in favor of the Rebels. Arizona managed to boast the best defense in the Pac-12 this year, only giving up 56.8 points per game. The Rebels put up 53 points in just the first three quarters of play.
The revival of the Arizona defense came off the palms of Pellington and senior forward Sam Thomas. Each of them clawed their way to four steals apiece. Thomas also added two blocks to her stat line.
A big storyline in this one was the home-crowd at the McKale Center. Arizona got the opportunity to play at home in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Not to mention, the Wildcats have only lost one game at home all season long.
With their victory on Saturday, the Wildcats will hit the hardwood again in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday. This time around Arizona will take on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Tarheels won their first-round game by 13 points.