The Wildcats needed to get their magic back.
Taylor Chavez helped them find it. The UA guard hit 5 of 7 3-point attempts for a season-high 18 points as the 12th-ranked Wildcats celebrated Senior Day with a 68-59 win over USC on Saturday.
The victory gave Arizona 20 wins for the fourth consecutive season. Boasting a 10-6 Pac-12 record, Arizona secured a No. 4 seed and first-round bye in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament. They’ll play either No. 5 Colorado or No. 12 Washington in Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals. USC (12-15, 5-12) will face UCLA in its first-round matchup.
“This is a really good one for us,” UA coach Adia Barnes said.
Along the way, Arizona showed it can win without Cate Reese, who separated her shoulder in Sunday’s loss at Washington State. Barnes said the UA could get her back in time for the Pac-12 Tournament.
“I thought that it was a really good win for our team psychologically, tactically, all that stuff, because we’re very different right now without our best player,” Barnes said. “And without someone who gives us 17 (points) and seven (rebounds) — one of our best players, so just this is a good one for Arizona.”
Chavez, an Oregon transfer, came off the bench and got hot. Chavez made 5 of 7 three-pointers.
“Honestly, I felt like our guards were getting me wide-open looks,” Chavez said. “There were I think six of the seven I shot I didn’t feel anyone within 3 or 4 feet of me besides that one that I got fouled on. I think that has a huge part of it was that when you’re left on an island wide open, all you see is a basket, you don’t see anything else and that’s all you can focus on.
“When you’re that wide open you (have) the confidence and you hear the crowd kind of stand up a little bit. When you see that first one go in and the second one, you’re shooting every open one after that.”
Chavez wasn’t the only one who stepped up to replace Reese’s production.
Lauren Ware finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, marking the first double-double of her season and the third of her career. She also added three blocks and one steal.
“We said (to Ware), ‘We need you to want to be a monster on the boards,’ and she did that,” Barnes said. “But she’s capable of doing that every single game. I think this game is gonna be the difference-maker for Lauren, because this is what she was doing before she got hurt. … This is the Lauren Ware that can be every game. I’m just proud of her. I’m glad that she took the challenge. I’m glad she did because we got murdered on the board last game. For her to be the catalyst to that is just huge for us.”
Shaina Pellington added 14 points, four assists and two steals and Sam Thomas had 10 points, two blocks and two steals.
USC led for much of the first half, then tied the game at 41-41 with 3:30 left in the third quarter. That’s when Arizona’s defense took over: Koi Love had a steal and tipped it to Chavez, who was fouled going in for the layup.
Love then picked another one and dished to Pellington for another basket. Chavez hit a 3-pointer and Bendu Yeaney followed that with a jumper to give UA a 50-43 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Yeaney scored two more baskets — one coming off a steal — to give UA a 54-43 lead with 8:55 left in the game. Yeaney finished with eight points, four rebounds, two steals and two assists.
USC could get no closer than six points the rest of the way.
Arizona forced 21 turnovers.
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