ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP)Arizona coach Adia Barnes had been looking for time to play her reserves during the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam.
The opportunity finally presented itself Saturday, as the ninth-ranked Wildcats went to their bench early and cruised past Rutgers 80-44 on the final day of the tournament.
Cate Reese scored 16 points and Arizona (7-0) got strong contributions off the bench from Gisela Sanchez (15 points) and Aaronette Vonleh (12 points). The Wildcats led by as many as 42 points and won the tournament’s Island Division title.
”We definitely wanted to play everybody and give some experience to our people,” Barnes said. ”I like doing that during our nonconference schedule, but we’ve played so many good teams that I haven’t been able to do that a whole lot. I was glad I was able to do that today.”
Osh Brown had nine points and Shug Dickson scored eight points for the Scarlet Knights (4-4), who had won three Paradise Jam titles but went 0-3 in their fourth appearance.
”We found out a lot about our team in this tournament,” acting Rutgers coach Tim Eatman said. ”Now we know what we’ve got to do when we go back home and work on those things. We’re thankful for that. Now we’ve got to take the things we got from the tournament and improve them in practice so we can be a better basketball team.”
Arizona put Rutgers away early. After taking a 12-2 lead at the end of the first quarter, the Wildcats shot 68.4% from the field (13 for 19, including 3 of 6 on 3-pointers) and outscored Rutgers 34-6 in the second period for a 46-8 halftime lead.
”When we had the pressure on, we really had them back on their heels,” Barnes said. ”They’re a good team, but going through different transitions. We both had our bright spots.”
Even with its starters on the bench most of the second half, Arizona continued to increase its lead. The Wildcats built their biggest advantage, 58-16, on Vonleh’s put-back with 2:35 remaining in the third quarter.
Rutgers: It wasn’t a good finish for the Scarlet Knights, who had won Paradise Jam titles in 2004, 2009 and 2015 under Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer. She is sitting out this season because of COVID-19 concerns, and Rutgers needs work if it hopes to earn a 27th NCAA Tournament invitation.
Arizona: After tough wins over Vanderbilt and DePaul at the Paradise Jam, the Wildcats finally put together a performance indicative of a Top 10 team. The playing time for Barnes’ reserves could pay dividends once Arizona’s Pac-12 season begins.
Rutgers committed 21 turnovers in the first half, including 12 in the second quarter. The Scarlet Knights finished with 30 turnovers that led to 31 points for Arizona.
The Wildcats’ reserves finished with 50 points, outscoring Rutgers’ entire team. Bench players accounted for half of the Scarlet Knights’ points (22).
Reece was named the Island Division’s MVP, and teammate Sam Thomas was named to the all-tournament team.
Rutgers: At Pittsburgh on Wednesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Arizona: With its game against California-Riverside on Friday canceled because of COVID-19 issues, the Wildcats won’t play again until Dec. 9, hosting North Dakota State.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25