ARIZONA BASKETBALL

Arizona women’s basketball advances past First Four in NCAA Tournament with win vs. Auburn

Mar 21, 2024, 8:10 PM

Jada Williams...

Jada Williams #2 of the Arizona Wildcats directs teammates against the Arizona Wildcats during the first half of a First Four game of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion on March 21, 2024 in Storrs, Connecticut. The Wildcats beat the Tigers 69-59. (Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)

STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Freshman Jada Williams had 17 points, Helena Pueyo scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half and Arizona earned its fourth straight opening win in the NCAA Tournament with a 69-59 victory over Auburn on Thursday night in the First Four.

Arizona (18-15) will move into the bracket as the No. 11 seed and will face sixth-seeded Syracuse on Saturday. The Wildcats improved to 8-3 in NCAA Tournament games under coach Adia Barnes.

Auburn (20-12) was making its 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2019.

Arizona’s defense was the key to victory. The Wildcats entered ranked 22nd nationally in opponent turnovers, forcing 19.7 per game. Auburn’s 20th turnover came with 5:57 left in the third quarter before finishing with 23.

Auburn had 10 turnovers and just eight points in the first quarter before trailing 27-19 at the half after turning it over 17 times and shooting 32% from the field.

Arizona opened the second half on an 8-2 run, with 3-pointers from Esmery Martinez and Pueyo, to extend the lead to 35-21. The Wildcats led by 17 points, 40-23, before Auburn scored the next eight points to get within single digits.

Pueyo made Arizona’s fourth straight 3-pointer of the third quarter for a 47-33 lead.

Auburn got within five points four times in the final five minutes, but could not get closer. Pueyo had a nice drive and pass to Skylar Jones, who finished a layup while being fouled to give Arizona a 66-59 lead. Jones grabbed an offensive rebound on Arizona’s next possession and made a wide-open layup for a seven-point lead with 1:24 left.

Martinez made all five of her shots to score 14 points and Jones, a freshman, finished with 13 for Arizona. Forward Breya Cunningham fouled out with 7:37 left in the fourth, but Arizona responded at the offensive end with baskets on back-to-back possessions.

Honesty Scott-Grayson, averaging a team-high 17.4 points per game, was the lone double-digit scorer for Auburn with 13 points. She was 6 of 16 from the field.

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