SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Arizona has made a habit of starting games slow this season. Aari McDonald did everything possible to keep it from happening against Utah.
McDonald, the NCAA career scoring leader among active players, tallied 19 points to lead the No. 6 Wildcats to a 77-60 victory over the Utes on Sunday. She also chipped in six rebounds and six assists in a strong all-around effort that kept the Wildcats (6-0, 5-0 Pac-12) undefeated.
Her biggest impact came at the start of each half to help Arizona get into a rhythm early. The Wildcats have rallied from double-digit deficits three times this season – including on Friday when they needed a fourth quarter run to edge Colorado.
“We’re just tired of digging ourselves in holes,” McDonald said. “We’re a competitive team.”
Cate Reese and Sam Thomas added 11 points apiece for the Wildcats. As a team, Arizona forced Utah to commit 22 turnovers and scored 29 points off those turnovers.
Niyah Becker scored 13 points to lead the Utes. Brynna Maxwell added 11 points. Peyton McFarland chipped in 10 points and 11 rebounds. The Utes (2-4, 1-4 Pac-12) shot just 38% from the floor.
“Our turnovers just continue to crush us,” Utah coach Lynn Roberts said. “We can’t give them 10 more possessions and expect to win.”
Arizona got going early, opening the game by making its first six shots from the field. It set the tone as the Wildcats dominated on both ends of the court for long stretches.
They used two separate 8-0 runs to sprint out to a 28-17 lead by the end of the first quarter. McDonald scored three baskets and assisted on three others to get Arizona’s offense rolling during the quarter.
Utah had a tough time staying within striking distance while struggling with turnovers and poor shooting. The Utes shot just 39% from the floor in the first half and committed 11 turnovers, leading to nine points for the Wildcats.
McDonald made it tougher for Utah to rally after halftime. She scored three baskets, capped by a layup off a steal, to fuel an 11-2 run that put Arizona up 52-35 early in the third quarter.
The Utes trimmed the deficit to 60-53 early in the fourth quarter after Maxwell and Becker made back-to-back baskets. The Wildcats ran off 12 unanswered points over two minutes to stifle the comeback attempt. Helena Pueyo and McDonald buried back-to-back 3-pointers to cap the run, giving Arizona a 72-53 lead with 7:00 left.
McDonald’s all-around effort in both halves supplied a snapshot of why she is one of the nation’s top players.
“She’s the catalyst on our offense and she’s the catalyst for our defense” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “She’s the one pressing. She’s the one getting steals, making tough plays. And our team feeds off it.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Arizona: The Wildcats are 5-0 in Pac-12 play for the first time in school history. Arizona also swept Colorado and Utah on the road for the first time ever.
Utah: Since upsetting Oregon State earlier in December, the Utes have dropped three straight games against Pac-12 opponents.