ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) — Arizona coach Adia Barnes always expects opponents to give her ninth-ranked Wildcats their best game.
That’s what Arizona got from DePaul on Friday during a 75-68 victory in the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam tournament.
Cate Reese scored 19 points to lead four players in double figures for Arizona (6-0), which broke free against the Blue Demons in the fourth quarter.
Shaina Pellington scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half, Lauren Ware added 12 points and Ariyah Copeland had 10 for the Wildcats, who battled with DePaul through six lead changes and eight ties.
“They just got hyped,” Barnes said of DePaul. “They really drove it down our throats. A lot of times, they were playing with four guards, and matchup-wise it was a little difficult at times.
“Still, long-term these are great experiences. Years ago, these kind of games we would’ve lost. From a learning advantage, there are some that we have to get better at.”
The game was tied 56-all with just under 8 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter before Arizona scored on three straight possessions — a pair of layups by Reese, and one by Ware — over a 43-second span to kick off an 11-2 run. The Wildcats went ahead 67-58 on another layup by Reese with 3:48 left.
“We started to play with a different sense of urgency,” Barnes said. “That’s how I’m used to us playing the whole game, but we haven’t been starting off like that. That’s a little bit concerning, and something we need to do better — having that level of intensity.”
Freshman Aneesah Morrow had 24 points and 16 rebounds for DePaul (4-2). Deja Church added 13 points and Lexi Held scored 10.
“We expected to win the game,” Blue Demons coach Doug Bruno said. “We didn’t expect to play Arizona close, we expected to beat Arizona. That’s the way we look at this.
“We went toe to toe with each other, just like prizefighters. That’s how they play, and that’s how we play. We’re much improved — a lot better than tonight than we were against (Texas) A&M a couple weeks ago.”
The Blue Demons got off to a hot start against Arizona, going up 15-8 on Morrow’s 3-pointer with 5:14 left in the first quarter. But the Wildcats rallied, closing the period with an 11-2 run, capped by Reese’s layup with 33 seconds remaining for a 19-17 lead.
Arizona went ahead by 10 points in the second, leading 32-22 on Bendu Yeaney’s layup with 4:06 left. This time, it was DePaul that rallied, with a 12-4 run — capped by Church’s layup with 20 seconds remaining — cutting the Wildcats’ lead to 36-34 at the break.
Arizona: After going down to the wire before beating Vanderbilt on Thursday, last year’s national runner-up played another tough game.
DePaul: After a close win over Rutgers on Thursday, the Blue Demons stepped up their game the next day — and nearly took down their first Top 10 opponent since beating then-No. 9 Kentucky on Dec. 16, 2020.
One area of concern for Barnes was Arizona’s problems dealing with DePaul’s inside game. Led by Morrow, the Blue Demons finished with a 42-39 rebounding advantage.
“One area we need to get better in is boxing out,” Barnes said. “We can’t give up 22 offensive rebounds in a game.”
Arizona: Closes out the Paradise Jam against Rutgers on Saturday.
DePaul: Faces Vanderbilt in its final tournament game Saturday.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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