KNOXVILLE, Tenn. ?- For just the second time this season, the Arizona women’s basketball team rallied from a halftime deficit to defeat an opponent, beating eighth-seeded Oklahoma 72-69 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Thompson-Boling Arena this morning. With the win, the ninth-seeded Wildcats improve to 20-11 on the season and advance to the second round on Tuesday.
Arizona shot 38 percent from the field, 45 percent from beyond the arc and 71 percent from the charity stripe on the game, while Oklahoma connected on 41, 36 and 88 percent, respectively. The Wildcats edged the Sooners on the boards, 40 to 39, and blocked five Oklahoma shots.
“We knew this was going to be a great game,” Head Coach Joan Bonvicini said. “We were overdue for a win in the NCAA Tournament. It took guts and I am so proud of my team.”
Senior Dee-Dee Wheeler led Arizona with 16 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Freshman Jessica Arnold added 15 points, including four three-pointers. Senior Danielle Adefeso rounded out the group of double-figure scorers with 10 points. Junior Shawntinice Polk finished with nine points and seven rebounds, while junior Natalie Jones pulled down a team-high eight boards. Arizona freshmen Ashley Whisonant and Ch?© Oh added eight and seven points, respectively.
Arizona jumped out to a 15-9 lead after Arnold nailed three treys, but Oklahoma answered with five straight points to make it a one-point game. From there, each time the Wildcats extended it to four or five, the Sooners quickly narrowed it back to one. Oklahoma took its first lead of the game, 25-24, at the 3:44 mark. It was part of a 10-0 run that gave the Sooners a seven-point advantage. Arizona went into the locker room down by five, 34-29.
Arizona shot 31 percent from the field, 36 percent from downtown and 50 percent from the free throw line on the half, compared to the 42, 38 and 85 percent, respectively, of Oklahoma. The Wildcats edged the Sooners on the boards, 21 to 20. Both team turned the ball over seven times on the half, but Oklahoma turned that into 10 points, while Arizona scored just one point off a Sooner turnover. The Wildcats also blocked three shots and had four steals on the half.
Arnold paced the Wildcats with 10 points, followed by Wheeler with seven. Wheeler, Polk and Oh pulled down four rebounds each to lead the Wildcats.
The Wildcats opened the second half strong, scoring eight of the first 10 points to reclaim the lead. The Sooners came right back with five straight points to take a 43-39 lead. Arizona then went on a 13-3 run to go up by six, 52-46. The Wildcats later scored four in a row to take their biggest lead of the game at eight points, 56-48. Oklahoma then went on a 4-0 run to make it a four-point game. A Jones three pushed it back to seven for Arizona. After both teams traded a pair of baskets, the Sooners scored five in a row to make it a one-point game, 63-62.
After a tie at 64, Jones nailed another three to give the Wildcats a 67-64 advantage, but Oklahoma answered with a trey of its own to knot it up at 67. A Polk lay-up with 38 seconds left gave Arizona a two-point lead and the Wildcats went on to win by three, 72-69.
Arizona faces No. 1-seed LSU at 7 p.m. (EDT) Tuesday, March 22. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.