The Arizona Wildcats erased a 16-point first half deficit to top New Mexico State 68-64 Wednesday night at McKale Center.
Junior Malena Washington led the way for the Wildcats with 17 points. Taryn Griffey added 14 and Breanna Workman finished with 11.
“Sometimes you need to win the tough ones, and tonight we certainly did that,” coach Niya Butts said. “I want to give credit to New Mexico State because they came in here and executed their game plan, but in the end we just made more plays than they did.”
The Wildcats, who were in a 13-0 hole to start the game, used some hot play from Griffey and solid defense to climb back in the contest after trailing 23-7 late in the first quarter. Griffey hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 36 seconds of the quarter to make it 23-13 at the end of the first.
Early in the second, Griffey hit a long two-point jumper and then found Keyahndra Cannon on a fast break for a layup to cut it to 23-17. After two free throws from Arizona and one from New Mexico State, the Wildcats found themselves in a 24-19 hole.
Malena Washington drilled a 3-pointer from the corner to cut it to two, but the Aggies responded with a make from deep range as well to take a five-point lead. Dejza James hit a layup to make it a three-point game and then Lauren Evans hit a jumper to cut it to one.
After a New Mexico State bucket, Evans hit two free throws to make it a one point game at half.
The Wildcats (5-1) grabbed their first lead of the game four minutes into the third when James hit a layup to give the home team a 35-34 lead with 6:05 to play in the third. The Aggies then pulled in front 44-43 with 1:27 to go in the quarter before Griffey hit a layup to put the Wildcats up. But New Mexico State scored the final four points of the third to take a three point lead into the final quarter.
New Mexico State (6-1) led by as many as five in the fourth, but Arizona cut it to one with 2:59 to play on a Workman layup. After a defensive stop, Workman scored again to give the Wildcats a 62-61 edge. Arizona put together another stop on the defensive end and got a layup from Washington to make it a three point game.
But the Aggies got a 3-pointer from Sasha Weber to tie the game up with 1:16 to play. From there, Arizona didn’t allow another point. Workman hit a layup with 43 seconds left to put the Wildcats up two and after a turnover by New Mexico State, Washington hit two clutch free throws with nine seconds left to give Arizona its final four point cushion.
"When you finish and are ahead in points it's always nice, but we definitely didn't start the game with any kind of urgency, so we need to do a better job of that,” Butts said. “We have to control our turnovers, bottom line. If we can control our turnovers I think we could be really good."
While Griffey gave the Wildcats a jolt in the first half, Washington and Workman, a pair of juniors saved their best for the second. Washington had 12 points, two rebounds and two assists in the second half and Workman had 10 points, four rebounds and two steals. Workman played 16 minutes and Washington played 15 in the second half.
“I just felt like we needed to pull away; we needed some type of energy or something to help us score,” Washington said of the second half. “We were getting stops but we weren’t capitalizing off them. I just felt like I had to take over, if you will, and try to pull us away from them.”
Added Workman of Arizona’s comeback performance: ”All five people on the court have the same mentality; we are never going to quit. As a team, I don’t think anybody is a quitter – no matter what, we are going to stay together and we are going to fight back.”
Workman and Washington weren’t the only upperclassmen to have big games against the Aggies. Junior Dejza James finished with seven points and a career high 13 rebounds in 21 minutes in the win.
As a team, Arizona outscored New Mexico State 16-2 on second chance points, outrebounding the Aggies 39-29. Arizona’s bench, which came into the game outscoring opponents by more than 70 points, had a 32-13 edge against the Aggies on Wednesday.
"This team does a really good job at sticking together,” Butts said. “More than any group I've had, they have a great ability to bounce back from adversity. Through these six games they have really proven that."
The Wildcats return to action at home on Saturday afternoon against Pacific at 1 p.m.
Copyright 2015 Arizona Athletics. All rights reserved.
7831 N. Business Park Drive
Tucson, AZ 85743