Nov. 28, 2008
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee State connected on 13 three-pointers and forced 29 Arizona turnovers, leading the way for a 77-57 win over the Wildcats, Friday evening in the Murphy Center.
The four-time Sun Belt Conference Tournament champion Blue Raiders gave the Wildcats a lesson in just how far they have to go to return to the national stage. The Blue Raiders masterfully executed their inside-outside offense while using a full-court press to remove any comfort level the Wildcats might have had on offense.
A comparison of the field goal totals over the first half tells the majority of the story as to how the Blue Raiders built their 44-27 halftime advantage. MTSU was 17-of-27 (.630) from the field in the opening 20 minutes and hit 8-of-14 (.571) from three-point range.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats only made nine field goals, all of them from inside the arc, and despite making 9-of-12 free throws and enjoying a 18-8 rebounding advantage, 16 turnovers turned into 20 Blue Raider points.
The opening four minutes of the game set the tone for the Wildcats. While sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe was sent to the bench inside of two minutes with two fouls, the Blue Raiders hit 3-of-5 three-pointers to take a 13-4 advantage.
Not only could the Wildcats do very little to slow the Blue Raiders on offense, the MTSU full-court press completely disrupted the Arizona offense and created a tempo that was much more to the liking of the home side.
One of the few bright spots in the first half for Arizona came with a brief 6-0 spurt sparked by its inside presence. Following a three-pointer by Jackie Pickel that made it 19-6 at the 13:16 mark, Beatrice Bofia converted a 10-footer off the glass before Amina Njonkou converted a pair of shots in the paint to cut it to 19-12 at 11:47.
The teams traded the next four baskets, but the Blue Raiders effectively put the game away with a 9-2 run to build a 33-18 cushion. The lead grew to as much as 19 points at the 3:06 mark before settling at 17 after two free throws by Reiko Thomas with 0.3 seconds remaining.
The Wildcats made some much-needed defensive adjustments to start the second half and showed some life early on. Thomas converted a pair of buckets, the second a conventional three-point play, after Courtney Clements and Njonkou had each scored field goals, helping the Wildcats to a 9-1 spurt after falling behind by 23 to cut it to 51-36.
Any comeback thoughts the Wildcats had faded after a pair of three-pointer attempts with different results. Clements came down after another defensive stop and missed the mark from the left wing.
The Blue Raiders, however, worked the ball around to Pickel for a trey. Clark added a pair of lay-ups around the sixth of seven three-pointers by Anne Marie Lanning to make it 61-40 with just under nine minutes to play.
"To be quite honest, I was very disappointed in our performance," said first-year head coach Niya Butts, whose team suffered its worst loss of her brief six-game tenure. "Certainly it's going to be hard to win a ball game turning the ball over 29 times against a team that is very disciplined and aggressive defensively and it's hard to get in a rhythm against a team like that."
MTSU finished the game an even 50 percent from the field (30-of-60) and hit 13-of-28 three-point attempts (.464). The Wildcats did not make a three-pointer for the second-straight game, failing on five attempts, but did hit 17-of-22 free throws (.773).
Thomas led the way for Arizona with 19 points, canning all nine of her attempts from the charity stripe, while Ibekwe added 16 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Njonkou also finished with 11 points and five rebounds.
Clark and Lanning shared game-high scoring honors for Middle Tennessee (4-1) with 21 points. Clark added 10 rebounds and four assists while Pickel dropped in 10 points and dished out five assists.
Arizona (3-3) is off for a week before hitting the road once more for a non-conference clash against Louisiana Tech next Saturday, December 6 with tip-off scheduled for 6:00 p.m. (CST)