SAN ANTONIO — Aari McDonald had 17 points with 11 rebounds and Arizona outlasted BYU 52-46 on Wednesday night, advancing to the Sweet 16 of the women’s NCAA Tournament for the first time since coach Adia Barnes was a player for the Wildcats in 1998.
The third-seeded Wildcats (18-5) finally went ahead to stay on a 3-pointer by Sam Thomas with 3:47 left, not long after McDonald’s 3 cut their deficit to one. BYU (19-6) had matched its biggest lead of the game — four points — on a layup by Shaylee Gonzales with just over five minutes left.
McDonald, a second-team All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year, sealed the Mercado Region game when she stole the ball from Gonzales, the co-West Coast Conference player of the year, and drove for a layup with 3 seconds left. That final basket gave Arizona its largest lead of the game.
Texas native Cate Reese had 12 points for Arizona, and Trinity Baptiste had 11 rebounds before fouling out.
Gonzales had 16 points for BYU. Tegan Graham had 13.
No. 11 seed BYU (19-6) may have been the last team put in the 64-team field after a last-second loss to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game. The Cougars opened the NCAA tourney with a 69-66 upset of Rutgers, with Gonzales making the last of her six straight free throws with 13.4 seconds left.
Barnes, the Pac-12 player of the year as a senior when Arizona went to its only other Sweet 16, is in her fifth season coaching her alma mater. Her contract has been extended through 2025-26.
The Wildcats are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005. They would have made it last season, when they were 24-7 before the tourney was canceled because of the pandemic.
Arizona went ahead in the third quarter after an impressive spurt by Reese, the 6-foot-2 forward and first McDonald’s All-American to play at Arizona after a standout prep career in Cypress, Texas — almost 200 miles from San Antonio.
Reese screamed going back down the court after a 3-pointer from the top of the key that put Arizona up 30-27 early in the second half.
Later in the third quarter, after a three-point play by Gonzales put BYU up by one, Reese took an inbound pass and cut back inside for a strong layup. After Reese was called for a three-second violation on the next possession, the Wildcats got the ball back on steal by Baptiste that led to another 3 for Reese, and a 36-32 lead with 5 1/2 minutes left in the third — the game was tied at 37 after that quarter.
NO SWEET FINISH
BYU went to the Sweet 16 in coach Jeff Judkins’ first season in 2002, and again in 2014, but missed a chance to get there again.
Arizona will play Texas A&M at the Alamodome, where the entire Sweet 16 and the rest of the tournament will be played.
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