Just when it looked like UC Riverside was getting back in the game Saturday night at McKale Center, Arizona women’s basketball coach Niya Butts took a timeout.
Whatever she said in those 30 seconds really sparked the Wildcats.
“We just needed to regroup so I needed to get that timeout,” Butts said. “I don’t remember exactly what I said but I’m sure I didn’t speak softly. Probably something to the effect of, ‘We have to step up our intensity if we want to win this basketball game.’”
And they did.
Five UA players scored in double figures and the Wildcats scored 29 points off the bench to beat UC Riverside 75-59 in front of 1,112 fans at McKale Center.
The game was essentially locked up after the Wildcats closed the first half with a 16-0 run to take a 37-20 lead in at the break. They led by as many as 23 in the second half.
After starting its season 1-7, the UA has won two straight.
“I think we’re getting better at punching back,” said senior point guard Carissa Crutchfield, who led the way with a team-high 15 points, eight of which came in the final 2 minutes 29 seconds of the opening half. “I know we struggled with that last year and now we’ve got new people in. We told them once they get on a run to fight back and we’re getting pretty good at that.”
With 4:48 left in the first half, UC Riverside (4-7) scored six straight to pull within 21-20.
That caused Butts to call a 30-second timeout and try to calm things down.
“I thought we were starting to lose our intensity, and lose our focus,” Butts said. “That’s not what we came here to do today. We want to protect the home court. We needed to defend a rebound and we weren’t doing that.”
Freshman forward Breanna Workman and the Wildcats are hoping this two-game winning streak is the sign of good things to come, especially with one more nonconference game left before Pac-12 play starts Jan. 3 at Washington.
“As (assistant) coach Sean (LeBeauf) says, ‘You only need one win to start a winning streak,’” said Workman, who scored 11 points and pulled in four rebounds.
In addition to the play of Crutchfield and Workman, Butts complemented freshman Ashley Merrill’s play as she scored 11 points off the bench and went 3 for 4 from the field.
Despite the big lead at the half, the Wildcats played even better in the final 20 minutes of the game, shooting 50 percent from the floor.
Although, Butts said the team still struggled in finishing at times and will have to work on that before hosting Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Dec. 29 in its final nonconference game.
“I think we missed a lot of layups,” Butts said. “I think we got the ball inside, which is our goal, but I think our bigs missed a lot of layups in there and we have to make those.”