The Arizona Republic
Wildcats can’t claw back vs. Maryland
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — In the end, it was too much for fifth-year senior Cate Reese as she burst into tears when the final seconds ticked off the clock.
The Wildcats would not be moving onto the Sweet 16, and the college careers of Reese and Shaina Pellington had come to an end as Maryland defeated Arizona 7764 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday at XFINITY Center.
Arizona finished the season 22-10, having lost in the second round in two consecutive years after running the table in the 2021 NCAA Tournament and losing by one point to Stanford in the title game.
Maryland (27-6) now moves on to the Greenville Regional next weekend vs. Notre Dame.
Minutes later, in the interview room, it was Arizona coach Adia Barnes consoling her first McDonald’s All-American, who tried to put into words what being a Wildcat has meant to her.
“It’s been a great five years,” Reese said as she was trying to hold back more tears. “I don’t even know how to feel right now. Sad, but happy for all I was able to accomplish at Arizona with my teammates and with Adia. Unfortunately, only one team wins.”
Reese, who led all Wildcats with 19 points and pulled down four rebounds, wasn’t the only emotional one. Pellington, another fifth-year player, also had to take a moment before sharing her thoughts.
“I was a transfer from Oklahoma and came from a tough situation, and Adia was one of the ones who took a chance on me, and that’s something I’m going to forever be grateful for,” Pellington said. “I feel like I developed a lot as a player, but most importantly as a person.
“Adia and the coaching staff and just the environment and Tucson — I do want to say thank you because everybody was patient with me and encouraged my progress. That’s something that I’m never going to forget.
“This might be the end of our collegiate careers, but we’re always going to be family. I think that’s something I’m always going to hold dear to my heart.”
Pellington finished with 13 points, three steals and two assists.
Arizona tried everything to pull out the win. The nerves were a bit too much in the beginning of the game, and UA spotted Maryland a 12-point lead. Barnes called a timeout and was quickly and calmly making adjustments. For the rest of the half, the Wildcats clawed their way back and took a one-point edge, 33-32, into halftime.
“We didn’t really have a sense of urgency defensively, and we were having a hard time getting stops,” Barnes said. “We knew one of the keys coming into the game was we had to slow Maryland down in transition . ...
“We changed some lineups, played small and just gave them easy ways to kick the ball inside. We knew that Maryland switches. We were trying to do isolating and trying to get certain people in switches, especially in the first half.”
It worked in the second quarter. The defense turned it on, holding the Terrapins scoreless for four minutes in the second quarter and allowing the Wildcats to go a 10-0 run.
Twenty-six of the Wildcats’ 33 points in the first half came from the paint, with Pellington and Paris Clark driving and dishing to Reese inside. UA outscored Maryland 25-15 in the second quarter as freshman Clark paced the run, scoring eight points and dishing two assists. She would finish with 11 points, two assists and a steal. That followed a seven-rebound performance in Friday’s win over West Virginia.
“The sky is the limit for Paris,” Pellington said. “She came in, and she gave us a fire that we desperately needed. And that’s something special. Not a lot of players can do that. Especially as a freshman. I think that is something that’s really amazing about her.”
Then Diamond Miller took over the game. She was driving. She was taking off-balance shots. Everything was going in.
The Wildcats were able to hold the All-American, whom Barnes had coached on Team USA’s gold-medal winning effort in the 2021 AmeriCup, to only four points in the first half. That was not the case in the third quarter, when she scored 13 of her 24 points.
“She came out and she was on fire,” Barnes said. “She’s really hard to guard. We can’t allow her to get out in transition and have a lot of isolation moments. …
“Diamond’s a great player. She’s versatile, she’s long, she’s athletic. …
“It looked like to me that probably (Maryland coach) Brenda (Frese) got into her at halftime and challenged her, because she came out in like a different player in the second half.”
Maryland outscored Arizona 29-9 in the third quarter to take a 61-42 lead. The Wildcats outscored the Terrapins 22-16 in the fourth, but it was not enough.
“We tried everything,” senior Helena Pueyo said. “They’re also a really good team. They’re long. Especially Diamond — she’s really good. She was driving us all the time. We tried to battle until the last second.”
Arizona headed back to Tucson Sunday night and will take off some time to rest up. Then the Wildcats will get back into the gym for offseason training. And, for Reese and Pellington, it’s time to train and prepare for what’s next — the WNBA draft on April 9.
“We have a future ahead of us. We want to go play basketball,” Reese said. “We want to go overseas, whatever it is. Our chapter ends here with Arizona, but obviously we’re going to always be around Arizona, come back when we can. We grew up here.”