TUCSON, Ariz. ?- The No. 24 Arizona women’s basketball team won its 28th consecutive home game tonight, defeating Saint Mary’s 87-72 in the first round of the Sportsview.tv Preseason WNIT to open the 2004-05 season.
The Wildcats shot 55 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range on the game, compared to the 41 percent and 52 percent, respectively, of the Gaels. Arizona edged Saint Mary’s in rebounds, 39-35 and forced 23 Gael turnovers. However, 42 of Saint Mary’s 72 points came off their 14 three-pointers.
“We didn’t do too bad for the first game of the season,” Head Coach Joan Bonvicini said. “Give Saint Mary’s credit though, they never backed down.
“We need to keep our intensity and defend the threes better,” she continued. “I’d also like to get to the free throw line more often and make more of those shots to get our percentages up.”
Junior Shannon Hobson led the Wildcats in scoring with a career-high 21 points. She also added seven rebounds. “Shannon Hobson played her best game as a Wildcat tonight,” Bonvicini said. “She just keeps getting better. Tonight was great for her confidence.”
Freshman Jessica Arnold, starting her first collegiate game, finished with 17 points, all of which came in the first half, on 5-of-6 from three-point range. She also added two steals, two rebounds, an assist and a block.
“Jessica had the rhythm and the feel for the game tonight,” Bonvicini said. “She broke the game open with her spark, emotion and fire.”
Junior All-America candidate Shawntinice Polk picked up her 38th career double-double, finishing with 17 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, while senior Dee-Dee Wheeler added 10 points and a game-high seven assists.
After a close start to the first half, the Wildcats went on a 13-0 run to take a 23-10 lead. Later, Arnold scored eight points in 22 seconds to put Arizona up 42-19. The Wildcats went into the locker room up by 21, 51-30.
Arizona shot 54 percent from the field and 50 percent from downtown on the half. Meanwhile, the Gaels combined for 36 percent shooting and 43 percent from beyond the arc. At the free throw line, however, Saint Mary’s was perfect, while the Wildcats shot a dismal 33 percent. Arizona out-rebounded the Gaels 22-20 and forced 15 Saint Mary’s turnovers.
Arnold led all scorers with 17 points on the half, while Hobson added nine. Polk pulled down seven boards on the half.
The Wildcats quickly built their lead above 30 in the second half, outscoring the Gaels 16-6 over the first 4:19 of the half, but Saint Mary’s used an 8-0 run to cut it to 22 (71-49). After Arizona built the lead back to 28 (77-49), the Gaels surged back and cut it back into the teens, which it remained at the final buzzer.
Arizona shot 56 percent on the half, while Saint Mary’s connected on 47 percent of its attempts. The Wildcats out-rebounded the Gaels 17-15, but committed 10 turnovers to Saint Mary’s eight. Polk and Hobson paced Arizona with 12 points apiece on the half.
Arizona hosts Rice in the second round of the WNIT at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14. The Owls defeated McNeese State 62-43 in their first-round game.