TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Down by five entering the fourth quarter, it was time for Arizona women's basketball to bear down.
The Wildcats did just that in front of an electric crowd of nearly 10,000 red-clad fans at McKale Center, rallying for a 72-67 win over the UNLV Lady Rebels on Saturday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Shaina Pellington led the way for the No. 4 seed Wildcats with 30 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter. She had some key steals down the stretch, and that defense led to offense.
“In practice everyday we work on this thing where we do stops and scores. Stops and scores. How many stops can you get, how many scores can you get," Pellington said after the game. "So I think it was just, in that stretch, it was just what we needed to do. We needed to connect more stops with more scores so we could be successful in the end. And that’s what we did.”
Arizona's leading scorer and rebounder Cate Reese also had a big game in first game since Feb. 20, when she dislocated her shoulder. Wearing a shoulder brace, the senior forward scored nine of her 16 points in the fourth.
“I mean I was nervous, I was excited, I think my teammates did a great job of encouraging me," Reese said. "I think I missed some shots I normally wouldn’t, but I mean I haven’t played in a while so I was a little rusty."
A loud home crowd also fueled the comeback, something coach Adia Barnes said was crucial.
“When you have the chance to play in front of that type of crowd, it ignites you," she said. "It’s energizing. And it’s just an incredible atmosphere. I said 'Red Out' two days ago and everybody wore red. So I think those things are incredible. And out players do a good job of engaging the fans. And the fans love our team.”
The No. 13 seed Lady rebels provided a serious challenge for Arizona and nearly pulled off the upset. Desi-Rae Young had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Arizona now faces the No. 5 seed North Carolina in the Second Round. Tip off is set for 7 p.m. Monday night at McKale Center. The winner advances to the Sweet 16 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.