If recent Pac-12 play is any indication, Aari McDonald and the No. 6 Arizona Wildcats may not be able to dominate their intrastate foe, the Arizona State Sun Devils, like they want to. The No. 7 Baylor Lady Bears may not be in for a cakewalk either against star guard Kysre Gondrezick of the West Virginia Mountaineers.
The No. 6 Arizona Wildcats moved ahead of the No. 7 Baylor Lady Bears in the rankings this week. Both teams play Thursday night, with the Wildcats hoping to play better and win bigger and the Lady Bears attempting to bounce back from the loss that dropped them three spots in the AP poll.
Last season’s series between the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils saw the Wildcats win both games, but by slim margins of five points and six points.
In 2020-21, Arizona started the season ranked No. 7 in the nation and climbed one spot to No. 6, all while Arizona State is receiving votes. Rankings aside, it won’t be surprising if the game is decided in its final moments and evidence that this could be the case comes from what happened between the two teams last season and in what has transpired already this season in the Pac-12.
It’s rivalry week. Enough said. pic.twitter.com/FiZiYNICf9— Arizona Women's Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) December 9, 2020
Picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 in the media poll and seventh in the coaches poll, Arizona State enters this one with a 4-1 record. All of the Sun Devils’ games have been close, including their wins over non-Power 5 schools, and they gave the No. 9 UCLA Bruins a scare — losing by just four points this past Sunday.
Arizona, meanwhile, picked to finish second in the conference in both polls, is coming off back-to-back close-call wins over UCLA (Dec. 4) and the USC Trojans (Dec. 6). USC was picked to finish seventh by the media and sixth by the coaches. The Trojans are 1-2 and the other loss was by five points to Arizona State (Dec. 4).
So, it seems Arizona, UCLA, Arizona State and USC are all in similar places in this early stage of the season. That means that if Arizona isn’t careful, it could very well end up being involved in another nail-biter on Thursday.
The Wildcats have been using an eight-player rotation so far that features returning stars Aari McDonald, Cate Reese and Sam Thomas; transfers Trinity Baptiste, Shaina Pellington and Bendu Yeaney and No. 26 Hoop Gurlz recruit Lauren Ware. Sophomore guard Helena Pueyo rounds out the rotation.
McDonald, a preseason All-American, is averaging 21.7 points per game so far this season. While Thomas’ numbers have been down, she is second on the team in minutes per game, trailing only McDonald, while Reese and Baptiste have been the second and third best scorers, respectively.
Arizona State will need to focus on shutting down those four players.
The Sun Devils, meanwhile, have been more offensively-challenged than the Wildcats, averaging just 57.8 points per game as a team. Arizona State’s leading scorer, Eboni Walker, has a scoring average of 11 points. After her, Taya Hanson, Jaddan Simmons and Katelyn Levings are the next-best scorers, in that order.
Arizona will look to limit those four players and try to overcome Arizona State’s defense, which has allowed just 52.2 points per game.
No. 7 Baylor Lady Bears vs. West Virginia Mountaineers
The Lady Bears are coming off a Dec. 6 loss to the No. 13 Arkansas Razorbacks in which they allowed 39 free-throw attempts and turned the ball over 22 times.
Baylor (2-1) did most things right in that game, including winning the battles of field-goal percentage, rebounding and points in the paint. The Lady Bears just need to be more disciplined on defense to avoid fouling and more disciplined on offense to avoid turnovers.
Junior center Queen Egbo in particular must find a way to stay out of foul trouble. She only played 11 minutes and scored just six points against the Razorbacks before fouling out. Freshman guard Sarah Andrews and graduate transfer guard DiJonai Carrington fouled out as well.
Andrews played just nine minutes.
Carrington, on the other hand, had a breakout performance after quiet outings in Baylor’s first two games. She notched 24 points and is a player that West Virginia will need to focus on, along with Egbo, junior forward NaLyssa Smith and senior guard DiDi Richards.
The Mountaineers are receiving votes in the AP poll and were picked to finish fifth in the Big 12. They are 4-0 with three blowout wins and an overtime win over the Tennessee Volunteers (Dec. 6). It’s been all about Kysre Gondrezick in the early going, with the redshirt senior guard averaging 23 points and 39.8 minutes per contest. Esmery Martinez, Madisen Smith and Kirsten Deans are all averaging double-digit points as well and will do their best to back up Gondrezick.
Arizona State Sun Devils (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) vs. No. 6 Arizona Wildcats (3-0, 2-0 Pac-12)
When: Thursday, Dec. 10, at 6 p.m. ET
Where: McKale Center in Tucson, AZ
Key to the matchup: Arizona State’s defense. If the Sun Devils can make this a low-scoring game, then it will likely be a close one. In a high-scoring game, however, the Wildcats could run away with a blowout victory. The Sun Devils need to keep Aari McDonald in check and hope they can come up clutch if the contest comes down to the final minutes.
Reason to watch: It’s a big rivalry game and could be a thriller.
Highlights: Some of Arizona’s best plays in a narrow win over Arizona State last year
No. 7 Baylor Lady Bears (2-1, 0-0 Big 12) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (4-0, 0-0 Big 12)
When: Thursday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, WV
Key to the matchup: Kysre Gondrezick. She is scoring way more points than any other West Virginia player and playing nearly 40 minutes per game. She is going to be the Mountaineers’ most reliable weapon in this game and will need to put up another superstar performance for them to get the win.
Reason to watch: You will get to see if Baylor is able to bounce back from a loss and whether the Lady Bears can make a statement in their first Big 12 game.