The Arizona Wildcats closed out the regular season Sunday afternoon at USC with a 63-56 win over the Trojans.
Coach Niya Butts and the Cats will now head to Seattle for the Pac-12 Tournament. Arizona will open play there Thursday at 3 p.m., MST against Oregon. The Wildcats are seeded No. 11 and Oregon enters as No. 6.
“Obviously it was a good one to get,” Butts said after the game. “It was a good team win. We stuck it out and made plays down the stretch. Our bigs did a really good job of taking their bigs out of the game early and getting them in foul trouble. We put the ball in the bucket in the first half and that allowed us to play defense the way we wanted in the second half.”
Junior LaBrittney Jones had 18 points and five rebounds in the win. The forward from Cedar Hill, Texas had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the first meeting with the Trojans and was equally as impressive in the second matchup. Jones was 7 of 13 from the floor and hit her only 3-point attempt. She was 3 of 4 from the free throw line and added a steal and an assist.
The Wildcats (12-18, 3-15 Pac-12) shot 44 percent from the floor in the win and outrebounded USC 38-25. Arizona managed to hold USC to 5 of 16 from 3-point distance and also forced 19 Trojan turnovers in the win.
Arizona led for more than 36 minutes and led by as many as 16, which served as the halftime margin. The Cats outscored the Trojans 32-22 in the paint and 23-18 off of turnovers.
The Cats took a 12-11 lead after an opening quarter, which saw neither team score in the final two minutes. The two teams traded the lead back and forth early in the second quarter and when Breanna Workman completed a three-point play, it gave the Cats a 17-16 lead.
Workman’s bucket started a 15-0 run for the Wildcats that spanned more than five minutes. After Workman put the Cats up, senior Keyahndra Cannon and junior Malena Washington put together back-to-back buckets, which put the Cats up 21-16. After Jones made it 23-16, freshman Taryn Griffey hit a corner 3-pointer to extend the lead to double digits for the first time.
Jones then capped the run with a 3-pointer to put the Cats up 29-16 with 3:32 to play in the half.
“That was a huge spurt for us,” Butts said. “We shared the ball really well and knocked down our open shots. We were able to get into the zone and make some plays. (Jones) did a really good job of finishing plays. The biggest factors in that run were we got stops, stayed together and we rebounded.”
USC cut the lead to nine at 31-22 with 2:21 left in the half, but the Wildcats finished the first on a 7-0 run and took a 38-22 lead into the locker room at halftime. Arizona shot 52 percent from the floor in the half and Jones had 13 of her 18 before the break.
The Trojans tried to cut into Arizona’s lead in the third quarter, but only ever got as close as 10. Lauren Evans hit one of two free throws with 24 seconds left in the quarter to give the Wildcats a 53-41 lead after three quarters.
In the fourth, USC (18-12, 6-12) used a fast and furious five minutes to cut Arizona’s lead down to two at 55-53 with 4:56 to play. But Arizona never allowed USC to get closer than the rest of the way.
“We did a really good job of executing the game plan late and making things happen,” Butts said. “We stuck together when it got tough.”
Cannon had 10 points, three rebounds and three assists in her final regular season game. With the Wildcats leading 59-56 with 18 seconds left, Cannon hit two free throws to give the Wildcats some breathing room and ensure a victory.
Washington also had 10 points in the win. She also added two assists and a steal. Workman led the team in rebounds with eight. She had seven points on 3 of 4 shooting. Freshman Destiny Graham had six rebounds in the win. The victory snapped an eight-game winning streak in the series by the Trojans.
Arizona will now look to avenge its only regular season meeting with the Ducks. Oregon bested Arizona in Eugene last month 76-54. Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament game will be televised by Pac-12 Networks.
“We talked before the game about how wonderful it would be to get this win before heading to Seattle,” Butts said.
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