Quick start not enough as the Cougs fall to the Cats

Quick start not enough as the Cougs fall to the Cats

PULLMAN, Wash. – Despite a double digit lead early, the Washington State women’s basketball team could not hold off Arizona in the second half as the Wildcats took a 70-62 win in Beasley Sunday afternoon. The loss for the Cougs (10-15, 5-9 Pac-12) was their second of the season to the Wildcats (12-13, 3-11 Pac-12) as Arizona won in Pullman for the first time since 2013.

Even in the loss the Cougars witnessed a school record fall as redshirt-sophomore Nike McClure became the first player in WSU program history to block seven shots in a single contest. The Tenino native’s seven blocks in the game moved her season total to 40, a mark which ranks seventh all-time in single-season history. She needs 10 blocks in the final four regular season games and the Pac-12 tournament to become just the third Coug in school history to record 50 rejections in a single season.

Early on, the day appeared as if it would belong to the Cougs thanks to a 10-0 start in the contest’s first 3:30 minutes. WSU would not allow the Wildcats to score their first point until the 5:33 mark in the opening quarter when LaBrittney Jones made one of two from the line to get Arizona on the board. The Wildcats would hit their first field goal on the next possession but the Cougs continued their dominating first quarter on the defensive end, turning the Wildcats over 10 times in the first 10 minutes of play. Scoring 16 points off of Arizona mistakes, WSU built its lead to 15 at 20-5 with 1:24 to play in the quarter, but a 5-0 spurt to end the opening stanza by Arizona cut the Coug lead to just 10 after one despite the dominating opening performance.

The late run by the Wildcats was a sign of what was to come as Arizona began to find its footing in the game while the Cougs began to slip. Behind the rebounding effort of LaBrittney Jones, the Wildcats crashed the boards hard in the second quarter, outrebounding the Cougs, 10-3, including grabbing five offensive rebounds that allowed them to further chip away at the WSU advantage. Jones, grabbing four rebounds in the quarter, came up with eight points in the frame to lead Wildcats, who cut the deficit in half to just 32-27, by the halftime horn.

The second half followed a similar path as Arizona came out of the gate firing as the Wildcats used an 8-1 run out of the locker room to tie the game for the first time since the opening tip. WSU would get a quick three from sophomore Alexys Swedlund to maintain the advantage but another burst by the Wildcats tied the game for a second time before a three by Malena Washington put the Wildcats ahead for the first time in the game, 44-43, with 3:34 to play. The three by Washington was one of three in the quarter for the senior who scored 14 of her 21 in the third period. The Wildcats would never relinquish the lead the rest of the way despite WSU closing to within one with a chance to take back the lead from the line with just over three to play in the game. Arizona would finish off the contest with a 12-5 run that included seven points from Jones.

In all, the Cougs finished the game with three in double-figures as junior Caila Hailey scored a team-best 15 points, one off of her career high of 16 set against the same Wildcat squad one month prior. Hailey did most of her work in the fourth quarter with eight points and at the line as she hit 7-of-9 from the charity stripe in the game. She added four rebounds to go with four assists and three steals. On top of her program-record seven blocks, McClure scored a career-high 11 points for the Cougs while grabbing five rebounds and a pair of steals. Swedlund, the Cougs’ active leader in scoring on the year, finished the contest with 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting while adding two rebounds, two assists, and one steal.

For the Wildcats, a slow start turned hot over the final three quarters as Arizona finished shooting 45.3% from the field including hitting at a 50.0% clip in the games final two quarters. Jones ended the game with a double-double as she tallied 22 points and 15 rebounds before fouling out with :19 seconds to play in the game. Defensively, the senior added four blocks and two steals as she came up with a pair of key blocks late to stymie the Cougs’ comeback efforts. Washington finished just behind Jones with 21 points on 6-of-17 shooting while JaLea Bennett scored 11 points to round out the Wildcats’ top scorers.

The Cougs will attempt to repeat the feat of a weekend sweep of the LA schools starting with a rematch against USC Friday night in the Galen Center. The game is scheduled for 6 p.m. on the PAC-12 Network.