TCU at Arizona
TCU Horned Frogs
Many Arkansas fans were disappointed when the Razorbacks didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. Their disappointment was compounded by TCU, who took the Razorbacks out of the WNIT at Bud Walton Arena. It wasn’t really an upset, either.
The Horned Frogs ended the season at No. 58 in the RPI. Her Hoop Stats rates them as the No. 45 team overall, and rates their defense even higher. Key to that defense has been Amy Okonkwo, who averages 1.1 of TCU’s 5.5 blocks per game.
Okonwko is just half of the impressive and experienced interior. The senior is the second-leading scorer on the team, adding 14.0 points per game. She trails only fellow senior Jordan Moore, who averages 16.0 ppg. Between the two of them, the senior interior line grabs 14.9 rebounds per game.
Through most of the tournament, they have handled the opposition quite easily. In the first two rounds, they dismissed Prairie View A&M by 31 points and UT Arlington by 17.
It was only when they went on the road to face Arkansas that things got tight. The Frogs came out with a four-point victory to keep their season alive.
Returning to Fort Worth helped them get back on track, defeating Cincinnati by 14 to advance to the semifinals.
They have won the battle of the boards against every opponent in the WNIT, out-rebounding three of their four opponents by double digits. Only Prairie View A&M was able to hang with the Frogs on the boards.
For Arizona, the WNIT has been about the future as much as the present. When Adia Barnes, the program’s most successful former player, was brought back as head coach three years ago, the city of Tucson wanted to get behind her. It’s just been difficult when there was a lot of rebuilding to do.
The team’s dramatic improvement this season, a star player and a deep run into the WNIT have turned into something of a love affair between the city and the team. Media members who don’t normally show up to women’s sports are there for press conferences. Signs on the city streets wish them luck. And thousands upon thousands of fans have shown up to cheer the team on.
The numbers hovered around 3,250 and 3,500 in each of the first two rounds for relatively easy wins over Idaho State and Pacific. That number almost doubled to 6,307 for a more competitive third round win over Idaho. For the first time…maybe ever…there was a large contingent in the Zona Zoo, the school’s designated student section.
For the quarterfinals, fans were being placed in a “virtual waiting room” while buying tickets online because of the demand. The crowd exploded to 7,717 fans for the game against Wyoming. Arizona stomped the Cowgirls by 22 points, noticeably lifting their play with the roar of the crowd.
And the interest has only grown. After defeating Wyoming, Aari McDonald went on the PA and asked the fans to fill McKale Center to the tune of 10,000 for the next round. Thousands left the game and went to stand in line immediately. By 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 6,305 tickets had already been pre-sold for the TCU match-up.
An official from the Arizona Athletic Department called the marketing push a “long game,” meant to impress those who make decisions at the NCAA. It’s not just about getting Arizona the home court advantage throughout this year’s WNIT, although that’s definitely part of it. It’s about proving that Tucson will support women’s basketball just like they support the men. After all, no one in McKale thinks the WNIT is the ceiling for the program.
For the players, it’s validation for the work they’ve put into the rebuild process. It’s about starting to see things pay off after living through a six-win season in 2017-18.
“I love my teammates. I love my coaches. I wouldn’t want to play for any other program,” McDonald said.
How do they match up?
Arizona has struggled against versatile inside players this season. Alanna Smith of Stanford and Megan Huff of Utah were especially difficult for them in their first match-ups with each team. In fact, interior play was what both Barnes and McDonald brought up when previewing the Horned Frogs on Tuesday.
Okonkwo is the kind of player who gave Arizona trouble during the regular season. She shoots 45.5 percent from the floor, but, more importantly, she can move out to the perimeter and hit from distance. Okonkwo averaged 4.6 3-point attempts per game this season, and made good on over 37 percent of those shots. She also averages 1.1 blocks per game. Adding leading-scorer Moore to the equation will put even more pressure on Arizona’s interior.
The Wildcats’ best post defender is Dominique McBryde, but she often faced foul trouble during the Pac-12 regular season. Six-foot-three senior Destiny Graham is experienced, but she is also very slender and prone to getting pushed around inside. The rest of the interior consists of freshman who, while extremely talented, are facing their first college postseason.
The TCU interior also gets after blocking the ball. They rate eighth in the country with 5.5 blocks per game. This could hinder the Wildcats, who rely on McDonald getting inside where she does most of her damage off the drive.
Arizona has struggled against teams that have a nose for blocks. In their first game against Stanford, the Wildcats fell victims to seven blocks by Smith in just the first half. It was a key factor in the Cardinal’s 30-point win.
To the Wildcats’ credit, they cleaned up some of those problems down the stretch. The second time they faced Stanford, for example, the pack-the-paint defense didn’t have the same effect. The Wildcats were in the game down to the wire, losing on a last-second shot in Maples Pavilion.
Both TCU and Arizona rate better on defense than offense, according to Her Hoop Stats, but the Wildcats are also one of the top 50 teams in most offensive categories. The Horned Frogs shine on interior defense, where they are top 10 in blocks per game.
By all accounts, the teams are evenly matched. TCU hopes to recapture the magic that helped them defeat Arkansas on the road, while Arizona hopes to ride the love of their fans to the finals. Neither team should expect this game to be as easy as those that came before.
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