Takeaways from Arizona’s victories over UCLA and USC

TUCSON, AZ - JANUARY 31: Arizona Wildcats guard Aarion McDonald (2) laughs with her teammates after missing a shot during a college women's basketball game between the UCLA Bruins and the Arizona Wildcats on January 31, 2020, at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - JANUARY 31: Arizona Wildcats guard Aarion McDonald (2) laughs with her teammates after missing a shot during a college women's basketball game between the UCLA Bruins and the Arizona Wildcats on January 31, 2020, at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

A tale of two games

Tucson, Ariz. — The Arizona Wildcats had not beaten a top-10 team since Feb. 5, 2004. That came to an end on Friday night, almost exactly 16 years later, when they dismantled No. 10 UCLA. It wasn’t just a win. It was complete 40-minute domination.

The follow-up left a bit to be desired, though. A very young Southern California team came into McKale Center on Sunday and battled the Wildcats just like they battled Arizona State on Friday morning. The Women of Troy left with another loss, but also with another example of what the future holds for them.

A historic night in McKale Center

The Wildcats’ first win over a top 10 team in 16 years represented more than a basketball game. It was like returning to a point when it looked like the sky was the limit, and starting that climb again.

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“We always talk about with this program about leaving a legacy,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “And these are things how you start. So I’m just proud of how we played. We played our butts off tonight.”

Back in January 2004, Arizona was on the way to building that legacy, as well. The Stanford Cardinal beat the Wildcats in Maples Pavilion. It was nothing especially new. Stanford dominated the Pac-10 and everyone knew it.

A few weeks later, it was a different scene in McKale Center. Behind the work of Shawntinice Polk and Dee-Dee Wheeler, the Wildcats pulled out a win over the No. 7 Cardinal. The two teams both finished 14-4 in the conference that season, each with a win at home, but the Cardinal took the rubber match in the Pac-10 Tournament championship game in San Jose.

Friday was one more step for Arizona’s players as they work to re-establish that legacy. The win over UCLA wasn’t just the first win over a top 10 team in 16 years. It was domination. Dismantling.

When the Wildcats traveled to Austin early in the season and destroyed the Texas Longhorns on their own court, the AP voters didn’t respond. With their actions, they seemed to say that they needed to see more.

Three months later, Arizona has proven that it was no fluke that they knocked the Longhorns out of the top 25 for the first time in 77 weeks. One would have to be comatose to sleep on these Wildcats at this point.

A young USC team is working towards the future

The Women of Troy had only nine players when they faced off against Arizona on Sunday. One is a Kayla Overbeck, a senior who is in her second season at USC after transferring from Vanderbilt. One is Aliyah Jeune, a grad transfer from Morehead State who is in her one and only season in Los Angeles. One is sophomore guard Desiree Caldwell. The other six are freshmen. Talented freshmen, but freshmen nonetheless.

That group of youngsters beat top-10 UCLA on Jan. 17. Yes, it was without the Bruins’ star forward Michaela Onyenwere, but the Women of Troy were decimated by graduations and transfers after last season. When the season started, injury was literally added to insult for USC, but they are still giving everyone their best shot.

“We had a triple-overtime game against Arizona State and this game,” USC head coach Mark Trakh said. “So I’m proud. I’m proud of the kids. They fought. They played hard. You know, we’re a little short. We had those three season-ending injuries to kids that would contribute. And then we have young kids who are fighting right now. They’re doing a good job.”

Much like the Arizona team of the 2017-18 season, USC is showing glimpses of the good things to come. One of those good things is the play of reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Week Endyia Rogers. The other is the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week from Jan. 20…

Alissa Pili!

At the end of the first quarter, the score was Arizona 18, Alissa Pili 8. The freshman from Anchorage, Alaska scored the first 10 points for the Women of Troy, and most of them weren’t easy.

Throughout the game, the recent Pac-12 Freshman of the Week showed her wide array of offensive skills, causing a lot of problems for Arizona.

“We had to double her,” Barnes said. “She’s very good. She’s a freshman. She’s going to be a great player in this conference. And USC is going to be good because their best players are freshmen and Mark’s a good coach. They run good sets. They’re difficult to guard. So they’re going to be really good. She was a handful. One-on-one we couldn’t guard her. She was burying us. She’s deceptively quick. She can play inside and out. She’s really strong going to the basket. So those things we had a tough time. So doubling, we even had a tough time in the first half, because she was splitting our doubles and getting offensive rebounds. I thought we played her a lot better in the second half.”

Pili was the only one on her team to score in double figures, and it was enough to keep the Women of Troy in it until the fourth quarter. She ended with 21 of her team’s 57 points.

USC hit 22 shots as a group. Eight of those were hers. They went 6 for 8 from the line. She was 4 of 4. They had five offensive rebounds. Pili had three of them and five total boards. While several of her teammates struggled with fouls, she committed only one. One block and three steals against only one turnover of her own.

Aari McDonald is taking the next steps

Whether she opts to enter the WNBA draft after the season or returns for her final year, it’s no secret that Aari McDonald aims to be a professional. Her coach regularly refers to the things that shes needs to do to get to the next level.

In addition to improving her 3-point percentage, one of the major improvements she needs to make in order to advance is improving her assist-to-turnover ratio. Last year, it was just under 1.25 assists per turnover. This year, that has taken a tumble to just 0.95 assist to turnover.

Part of the regression has been because teammates either weren’t taking or weren’t making their shots. Part of it is on McDonald’s lack of control leading to turnovers.

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