SAN ANTONIO — Arizona coach Aida Barnes need not worry. Her Wildcats were more than ready for their first women’s NCAA Tournament appearance in 16 years.
Aari McDonald scored 20 points, Trinity Baptiste added 18 and Cate Reese 16 as Arizona rolled past tournament newcomer Stony Brook 79-44 on Monday.
The America East champion and 14th-seeded Seawolves (15-6) led at 4-2 but were then left behind by the 11th-ranked and third-seeded Wildcats, who will take on 11th-seeded BYU on Wednesday. The Cougars upset 21st-ranked and sixth-seeded Rutgers 69-66 earlier Monday.
“I think mentally, physically, I felt like we were zoned in, tuned in,” said Barnes, reflecting on what she thought was a disappointing end to the Pac-12 Tournament where it lost to UCLA in the semifinals. “I saw a different sense of urgency. I saw a different hunger that I didn’t really see in the Pac-12
Tournament. But then it was like, how are we going to perform on the floor? We came out with a fire intensity, what I expected. What I know we can do every day.”
A 15-2 run, with seven points from McDonald, erased the Seawolves’ only lead and a 9-0 surge to end the first quarter capped by Helena Pueyo’s 3-pointer that made it 26-10. McDonald scored five straight points in the second quarter and the Wildcats (17-5) were on their way to a 27-point halftime lead. The lead reached 36 points on Reese’s 3-pointer midway through the third quarter and hit a high of 38 late in the game.
McDonald, the Pac-12 player and defensive player of the year, led an offense that shot 58%, outscored Stony Brook 44-18 in the paint, 25-8 off turnovers and made 17 steals. McDonald reached double figures for the 88th straight game, the nation’s longest active streak.
“We had a great week of practice since we’ve been here,” McDonald said. “I’m just glad it translated to the game. I was really proud. We’re not done yet and I’m just gonna cherish it, but you know, we have another game to look forward to.”
Asiah Dingle scored 14 points, all in the first half, and Earlette Scott 10, all in the second, for the Seawolves, who shot 29% and turned it over 25 times. Annie Warren and India Pagan, who along with Dingle averaged double figures this season, combined for just two points.
“I’m just really proud of our team today to represent Stony Brook University and our first-ever NCAA appearance was really special,” coach Caroline McCombs said. “Obviously, it wasn’t the outcome that we had hoped for. But I thought once we gathered ourselves, you know, we played a very strong second half. Again, just can’t say enough about how special this team is.”
Stony Brook: Despite coming in with the nation’s third-ranked scoring defense at 50.7 points, the Seawolves found themselves overmatched in the program’s first tournament appearance.
Arizona: The Wildcats cruised in their first tournament appearance since 2005 and eighth overall, bringing some relief to Barnes: “This is uncharted territory but we handled it like champs. I thought we came out with the intensity that I expected and I wanted to see, so I’m very happy for this team.”
Last season, the Seawolves were 28-3, including a 22-game win streak, and won their first America East regular-season title before the season was cancelled the day before they were to play in the conference tournament championship game. Stony Brook beat Maine in this season’s conference tournament to make the trip to Texas. Three of the five starters were back from last season’s team returned: Pagan, Warren and Hailey Zeise.