Arizona gets back-to-back wins
The No. 11 Wildcats dominated the No. 10 Oregon Ducks Thursday. How did they follow it up on Friday?
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The Arizona Wildcats had suffered 10 straight defeats at the hands of the vaunted Oregon Ducks. Most of them were ugly, lopsided defeats, too. On Thursday night, in the Wildcats’ first ever regular season game on ESPN, they returned the favor by dominating the Ducks. What was next?
As first reported by P.J. Brown of the Arizona Daily Star, it was pretty big. Madison Conner, the Wildcats’ highest-ranked commit in the 2021 class, will join the team this weekend after opting to graduate from high school early.
It’s not unheard of for players to join early. Arizona had Australian guard Tara Manumaleuga join them for the second semester two years ago. This year, it’s become, if not common, at least unremarkable in women’s college basketball.
Conner joins three other players who joined their teams early just in the Pac-12. UCLA welcomed Dominique Darius earlier this month, easing the depth issues that has forced them to postpone games because they didn’t have at least seven healthy scholarship players. Jess Finney has also joined her Washington Husky teammates a semester early. And on the same day the Conner decision was announced, Talia von Oelhoffen joined Oregon State. All four were ranked in ESPN’s Top 100 for 2021.
In the midst of the pandemic, heading off to college has its advantages. Since the players will not lose the year of eligibility, it gives them time to get acclimated to the college game without any risk. For Darius and Conner, it means competing for conference and possibly national titles.
It also may be the best opportunity to play. Conner and Finney both come from the Phoenix metro area. The Arizona Interscholastic Association has gone back and forth over whether winter sports would be played this year.
After first voting against it, the AIA reversed course this week after outcry (and, reportedly, threats against those who had voted against playing). Arizona has been a coronavirus hot spot for months, making it questionable whether the entire season will get played regardless.
For the Wildcats, it couldn’t come at a better time. After suffering a heartbreaking loss to the Washington State Cougars on Sunday, they were set to face Oregon with the prospect of suffering a third loss in four games.
They proved why they had been ranked in the Top 10 every week this season until the loss in Pullman, completely overwhelming the Ducks. It was the worst loss by Oregon in four years, and it halted their 10-game winning streak over the Wildcats. It also gave the Wildcats their second win over a Top 10 team this year.
One thing that helped lift Arizona to that big 57-41 win was the ability to hit outside shots. The 3-pointer has been something of a nemesis for the Wildcats for the last few years. This year has been no different as the team has shot 29.4 percent from outside.
They have capable shooters—especially senior Sam Thomas and sophomore Helena Pueyo—but the team has gone on streaks of missing those big shots. The addition of Conner could be crucial in this area.
Conner hit 39 percent of her 3-pointers in her first three years of high school. That’s better than any Wildcat who has taken at least 10 attempts beyond the arc this season.
Although she will not be eligible to play against Oregon State on Sunday, the Wildcats will now have one more weapon in a very dangerous arsenal.