FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona sped up Northern Arizona’s ballhandlers, pressuring them into mistakes that led to easy baskets in transition.
One big burst at the start showed the Wildcats weren’t about to have a letdown before a massive game two days later.
Aaronette Vonleh scored 17 points, Madison Conner added 12 and No. 4 Arizona overwhelmed Northern Arizona with a big opening run for an 82-55 win Friday night.
“We knew we could speed them up, we knew we could press them,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “That’s what we’re good at. We feel we can do that against any team.”
The Wildcats (10-0) arrived in Flagstaff hoping to avoid a letdown with a showdown against No. 11 Texas coming up Sunday in Las Vegas.
Arizona jumped on the the Lumberjacks (5-5) from the start, smothering them with full-court pressure and overpowering them inside during an opening 23-2 run. The Wildcats had a bit of a letdown in the second quarter but never let the lead get under 18 the rest of the way.
Arizona had a 52-18 advantage in the paint and 16 steals to score 28 points off Northern Arizona’s 22 turnovers.
Emily Rodabaugh led the Lumberjacks with 13 points.
“We could have done a better job early in relaxing and having a little more composure,” Northern Arizona coach Loree Payne said. “This is really the first game where I’ve seen our team speed up, out of control, where we didn’t come together to be able to even get a shot up on some possessions.”
Northern Arizona put up a good fight in its first two games against Pac-12 opponents this season, losing at Washington State by eight and at Washington by seven. The Lumberjacks also have a win over UNLV on their resume and can put points up in a hurry, scoring 108 in a win over Grand Canyon while averaging nearly 78 per game.
They were no match for Arizona’s size nor its defensive athleticism.
The Wildcats relentlessly pressured NAU’s ballhandlers, picking them up full court from the opening tip. The Lumberjacks couldn’t handle the heat, turning it over 10 times in the first 6 1/2 minutes.
Arizona turned most of those into points in the paint, scoring 18 inside — 16 off turnovers — during the opening 23-2 run. Northern Arizona finished the first quarter with three field goals, seven points and 10 turnovers.
“I felt like we had the confidence coming in, but to not get the ball across half court in pretty much a full-court man-to-man defense was really frustrating,” Payne said. “We have veteran guards who need to be able to handle that pressure and have shown in the past that they could.”
The Lumberjacks cut down the turnovers and forced a few of their own with full-court pressure in the second quarter. Northern Arizona forced five turnovers, made 8 of 16 shots and closed the quarter on an 8-0 run. They still trailed 44-24.
Northern Arizona had a few good moments in the third quarter, but Arizona went on a 19-3 run that spanned into the fourth to keep the rout going even as Barnes emptied the bench.
“The main objective was to give people opportunities and give people confidence,” Barnes said. “I think we did that today.”
Northern Arizona got off to an awful start, but did enough good things later — particularly during the second quarter — to build confidence for the Big South Conference season.
Arizona got off to a great start and, despite a few shaky moments, took care of business before Sunday’s game against Texas.
Arizona forward Koi Love had a big impact on both ends of the floor off the bench. The junior spearheaded the Wildcats’ defense, finishing with four steals, and played aggressively on offense, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and seven rebounds.
“On the defensive end, just a lot more solid, more disciplined on the ball, which was something I was really impressed with,” Barnes said. “Offensively, attacking the rim more, asserting herself, looking to score, those are things I expect from Koi.”
Northern Arizona is one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams, entering Friday’s game shooting 40% from the arc.
The Lumberjacks were on the mark again, hitting 8 of 12. Rodabaugh led the way, hitting 3 of 4 from 3.
Northern Arizona plays at UC San Diego on Tuesday.
Arizona plays No. 11 Texas Sunday in Las Vegas.
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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