Arizona women open March Madness with win over West Virginia
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - When Shaina Pellington left the game with four fouls early in the third quarter, Arizona didn’t miss a beat.
In fact, freshman Kailyn Gilbert helped the Wildcats pull away.
Cate Reese scored 25 points and Esmery Martinez had a double-double against her former team, leading seventh-seeded Arizona to a 75-62 victory over 10th-seeded West Virginia in the women’s NCAA Tournament on Friday. The Wildcats went on a 16-3 run in the second half with Pellington on the bench.
“To be honest, I did not know how to take it at first, because I thought I wasn’t even going to go back in,” Gilbert said. “But then I was like, ‘You know what? I work hard every day. I’m in the gym. These are the moments I work for and I feel like I’m made for.’ I was just going to go in and have energy.”
Gilbert scored five points in 14:05, the longest outing for the 5-foot-8 guard since Jan. 29.
The Wildcats (22-9) started fast and never trailed, and will next play second-seeded Maryland. Arizona entered the tournament on a three-game losing streak, but had a couple weeks off before this matchup.
The Wildcats seemed refreshed early on, shooting 72% from the field in the first quarter. West Virginia was holding opponents to 61 points per game this season, but Arizona looked ready to breeze past that after just one quarter and a 28-17 lead.
“Anything we tried to get into from a defensive standpoint, we really had a hard time slowing them down,” West Virginia coach Dawn Plitzuweit said.
The Mountaineers (19-12) eventually settled in. It was a seven-point game at halftime, and Arizona’s lead was down to three early in the third. Pellington picked up her third and fourth fouls a few seconds apart in the third, but after two free throws by West Virginia made it 42-39, Arizona eventually pulled away again.
It was 61-51 after a foul-filled third quarter, and then the Wildcats scored the first seven points of the fourth. It was 68-57 when Pellington finally returned; she finished with 18 points.
Martinez, who played three seasons at West Virginia before transferring to Arizona, had 13 points and 12 rebounds.
“I knew she was a little bit more nervous today because I think she really had the itch to do well. I knew something was going on because she was talking to the doctor to get some Pepto or something because of her stomach, so that told me nerves right away,” Wildcats coach Adia Barnes said. “I’m proud of her today because the difficult thing for Esmery all year has been staying out of foul trouble, not going for blocks, and she had one foul.”
JJ Quinerly led West Virginia with 19 points.
West Virginia: Plitzuweit guided South Dakota to the Sweet 16 last year, but a run like that didn’t materialize with the Mountaineers. They were playing catch-up from the start.
Arizona: The Wildcats were in the national title game two seasons ago, so a No. 7 seed isn’t exactly what they had in mind, but they were able to impose their will offensively for long enough to win comfortably in this one.
West Virginia had only seven turnovers but was undone by 31% shooting.
“I’m proud of our young ladies because we battled back. In a lot of ways, we took care of the basketball against one of the best teams in the country at turning opponents over,” Plitzuweit said. “We got a lot of really good looks. Unfortunately for us, we are not a team that shoots it at an incredibly high percentage.”
AT THE LINE
Almost half the scoring in the third quarter came on free throws. West Virginia went 10 of 14 and Arizona was 8 for 8.
Arizona: Lost at home in the second round last year to North Carolina. Now the Wildcats will be playing a road game against Maryland.