The Arizona Wildcats kept it close against No. 10 USC for a half on Monday night. As has been typical of the team, the collapse started in the second quarter and accelerated after halftime on the way to a 81-64 USC victory in the Galen Center.
“We had a really good first quarter,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “I think second quarter, they got a little hot. We just had a really tough time containing JuJu (Watkins). She’s a really tough matchup for us. We had numerous people in foul trouble. And then we just kind of, I think, didn’t as a team play with a sense of urgency after that.”
Arizona was effective on defense in the first quarter. The Wildcats held USC to 20 percent shooting over the first 10 minutes. UA wasn’t great on offense, but its 33.3 percent shooting was considerably better than its opponent’s shooting.
The Women of Troy started to find the basket in the second period. Their success rate shot up to 81.8 percent, but they weren’t able to pull away from Arizona. The Wildcats also improved their shooting, going for 56.3 percent in the second quarter.
The Wildcats kept it close by doing work on the boards in the first half. They outrebounded USC 17-11 over the first 20 minutes. UA made good use of those rebounds, especially on the offensive end. It ended the half with nine second-chance points compared to zero for USC.
USC eventually came out on top in the rebounding battle, winning the boards 34-29. UA ended with 13 offensive boards to USC’s eight but only won the battle for second chance points 13-12.
USC made its big move from beyond the arc. After going 1 for 9 in the first quarter, the Women of Troy hit all six of their 3-point shots in the second quarter. They ended the night 11 for 22 from outside. Kayla Padilla led the way with 5-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc.
Arizona used a box and one defense to somewhat contain JuJu Watkins, especially in the first half. Watkins still ended the night with 32 points, but the Wildcats held her below her season shooting percentages. She connected on 39.1 percent of her shots from the field compared to 43.1 percent for the season. She was good on 33.3 percent of her 3-point shots compared to 34.7 percent this season.
They couldn’t keep Watkins off the line, though. She went 12 for 12 from the free-throw line. That was well above her season average of 7.4 free throw attempts per game.
After getting things going in the second quarter, USC kept the momentum out of the locker room. As it has in many games this season, Arizona allowed the opponent to build a lead in the third quarter. USC’s 37-33 lead at halftime was a 60-44 lead after 30 minutes.
For most of the game, the Wildcats avoided the foul trouble that has plagued their frontcourt players this season. Helena Pueyo, who guarded Watkins early in the game, picked up two fouls halfway through the first quarter and Courtney Blakely had two fouls in two seconds, Breya Cunningham and Isis Beh were able to go most of the game without being forced to sit with fouls. Esmery Martinez picked up her third early in the third quarter and eventually fouled out, but the foul situation was much less severe than it has been for the Wildcats in many of their games.
“Breya did a really good job,” Barnes said. “She’s really trying to do the things we’ve asked her. She’s being a lot more proactive on defense. I think moving her feet better. You’re right, not in a lot of foul trouble. I thought missed some shots around the basket because (Rayah) Marshall makes you alter some shots…I think she’s a little down right now just because it’s hard when you’re missing shots, but I thought she did some really good things and that she’s growing and getting better.”
Arizona ended with four players in double figures. Martinez and Skylar Jones both had 13 points. Martinez did it on 6-of-10 shooting. Jones went 3 of 9 from the floor, but she was 2 for 3 from the 3-point line and 5 for 6 from the free-throw line.
Jones added six rebounds, one block, and three steals but also had three turnovers. Martinez added seven rebounds, three assists, and a steal, but she also had issues with turnovers. The forward ended her night with five giveaways.
The continued improvement of Jones is a high point of the season for Barnes.
“Skylar was awesome,” Barnes said. “She’s really sick right now. We have a cold going around the team, but she played her heart out. She played solid defense. She played good on offense. She attacked the rim. I thought she did amazing. I think she’s just continuing to get better every single game and she’s doing everything we ask her and she’s a great kid. She’s someone I really want to build around, and I just love coaching her.”
Kailyn Gilbert had 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting off the bench. She contributed two rebounds and one assist as well as adding one turnover to the team’s total of 15 giveaways.
Jada Williams was the fourth player who scored in double digits. She had 10 points and three assists with one turnover. She hit 4 of 11 shots and connected on 33.3 percent of her 3-point shots.
The Wildcats got most of their early scoring from Pueyo. She scored four of Arizona’s first six points but only scored four more the rest of the game. She added one rebound, one assist, one block, and five steals.
Pueyo also had one turnover and committed four fouls while being the primary defender on Watkins. The most painful of the fouls was the last one. Pueyo fouled Watkins on a long 3-point shot with five seconds left in the third quarter just after Arizona cut the lead to 13. The ball had no hope of going in, but Watkins sank all three free throws.
Both Williams and Martinez appeared to suffer injuries during the game. Williams left for several minutes but was able to return. Martinez was injured committing her fifth foul. She had to be helped from the floor.
“Those kids play their hearts out,” Barnes said. “They have great mentalities, great attitudes every single day. Some people probably wouldn’t have gone back in the game at this point, but those two are—they’re difference makers and kids I really believe in…Thank God they’re okay.”
The Wildcats now return home to face Washington State and Washington. They will be must-win games if Arizona (12-12, 4-8) wants to keep its postseason hopes alive. Following that, they finish the season by going to the Bay Area and hosting the Los Angeles schools. Three of the final four games are against top 10 opponents.
Regardless of who the opponents are, Barnes thinks that success will only come one way.
“It’s gonna be hard to win a lot of games if we don’t change our mentality,” she said. “I think there’s just a lot of people hanging their heads, really kind of worried about their individual performances versus the team, and we’re not going to win a lot like that. So my message to the team, it’s not about winning or losing. I think it’s about this is who we are and this is what we have and everybody being on the same page, fighting for the same goals if we want to win. If not, we’re not gonna win another game this year. So I think that there’s some kids that really want it, and I think it shows on the floor. And some kids just want to play by themselves and that shows on the court, too. But we know we’re not gonna win games like that. So whether we finished the season with five players and three more walk-ons…I know that everybody that’s going to play and earn playing time, they’re going to be playing as a team. They’re gonna play offense and defense, are gonna have good attitudes and a good work ethic, or they’re gonna rot on the bench. And I don’t care.”
Matthews scores twice as Toronto hands Arizona 11th straight loss
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Auston Matthews scored his 50th and 51st goals of the season Wednesday night in the Toronto Maple Leafs star’s hometown return, breaking a tie as the fastest U.S.-born player to reach 50 goals at 54 games.
Matthews scored the milestone goal on a power play at 5:01 of the first period in a 6-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.
From nearby Scottsdale, Matthews scored on a shot from the circle to the left of goaltender Karel Vejmelka to make it 2-0. Mitchell Marner and Timothy Liljegren assisted on the goal that came with Michael Carcone in the penalty box for slashing.
“We had a couple of power plays and were kind of able to snap it around. I just tried to get open and (Marner’s) got the puck and he’s got a great sense of where I am on the ice and vice versa,” Matthews said. “We just try to push ourselves to be the best that we can be individually and the best teammates we can be.”
Matthews added his 51st — giving him 350 career goals in 535 games — late in the second period for a 4-2 lead en route to Toronto’s fifth straight victory.
“It’s a small step in a long season,” Matthews said. “Coming back home against a team that’s really had our number the past couple of seasons, it was just a good effort all around. It’s a great atmosphere, and it makes for a pretty fun game.
Matthews shared the previous U.S.-born mark with former Pittsburgh star Kevin Stevens at 62 games. Matthews is the fastest to 50 since Mario Lemieux since did it for Pittsburgh in 50 games in 1995-96. Wayne Gretzky holds the record, scoring his 50th in his 39th game for Edmonton in 1981-82 on his way to a record 92 goals.
Matthews has nine goals in his last four games, having two consecutive hat tricks before a single goal against St. Louis on Monday night. Florida’s Sam Reinhart is second in the NHL with 39 goals.
Matthews, who had 60 goals two seasons ago to lead the NHL, making him the first to reach that mark since Steven Stamkos had 60 in 2011-12. The last players to score 70 or more in a season were Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny, who each had 76 in 1992-93.
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Arizona prosecutor refuses to extradite murder suspect to New York
An Arizona prosecutor said she will not extradite a New York murder suspect to the state on Wednesday, claiming Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) could not be trusted to keep the man behind bars.
Maricopa County prosecutor Rachel Mitchell said in a press conference Wednesday that the suspect will instead remain in Arizona.
“Having observed the treatment of violent criminals in the New York area by the Manhattan DA there, Alvin Bragg,” Mitchell said, “I think it’s safer to keep him here and keep him in custody, so that he cannot be out doing this to individuals either in our state, county, or anywhere in the United States.”
The suspect, 26-year-old Saad Almansoori, stands accused of the murder of a 38-year-old woman in New York City earlier this month. He was arrested in Arizona days later, after stabbing a second person.
Mitchell specifically cited Arizona’s mandatory minimum prison sentences as a reason to deny extradition, implying that Bragg would not pursue a harsh enough sentence.
A spokesperson for Bragg’s office denounced Mitchell’s decision not to allow extradition and her attacks on Bragg himself.
“It is deeply disturbing that D.A. Mitchell is playing political games in a murder investigation,” spokesperson Emily Tuttle said in a statement to The New York Times.
“New York’s murder rate is less than half that of Phoenix, Ariz., because of the hard work of the N.Y.P.D. and all of our law enforcement partners,” she continued. “It is a slap in the face to them and to the victim in our case to refuse to allow us to seek justice and full accountability for a New Yorker’s death.”
Bragg, a Democrat, has been a locus for political criticism of New York City law enforcement, with detractors claiming that the district attorney is to blame for a perception of higher crime. Bragg is also the prosecutor who brought the business fraud case against former President Trump regarding hush money payments allegedly made to cover affairs, attracting more claims of political motivation.
Bragg sued Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, last April, accusing him of a “transparent campaign to intimidate and attack” his work, following a House investigation.
Mitchell is also politically connected across the nation. She served as the outside attorney to Senate Republicans during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and famously questioned the woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault during a public hearing, Christine Blasey Ford.
The Hill has reached out to the offices of Bragg and Mitchell comment.
Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
AZ schools are struggling to fill teaching positions as leaders brainstorm staffing solutions
Public school educators say they are some of the most underpaid and overworked laborers in the country.
In 2023, Educators for Excellence polled thousands of teachers about their experiences and workloads and found that while 80% of teachers are likely to spend their entire careers in the classroom, only 14 % of teachers would recommend the job to others. These striking statistics come as no surprise for educators who have been dealing with the pitfalls of school staffing shortages for years now with little to no reprieve.
The Arizona State University Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College’s annual Strategic School Staffing Summit earlier this month highlighted a collection of potential solutions, but now the question remains if any of them will incentivize teachers enough to commit to the classroom long term.
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Across the school districts in the state, more and more educators are quitting or are considering leaving the profession. Against the backdrop of lack of affordable housing, the rising cost of living, political discourse and stagnant wages, the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA) found that by January 2023, of the more than 7,500 teaching positions that had been vacant at the beginning of the school year, over 82% remained either still vacant or were filled by people who didn’t meet required teaching qualifications.
“This is a predominantly 80% female-dominated profession and so it’s expected that women do this unpaid labor for their children, for the students, because we’re seen as more maternal,” Arizona Education Association President Marisol Garcia said. “But … on the other end, Arizona educators and most educators across the country do not have family leave, do not have health care coverage for their children, do not have high rates or really great medical insurance for if we do get injured or if we do have children.”
“How are we taking advantage of this labor, this exploitation of labor particularly in a female-dominated workforce, and yet not putting up any supports that allow them to continue to be happy and healthy and stay and continue to do the job that we’re expecting them to do?” Garcia asked.
In Arizona – where the average teacher’s salary ranks 32nd in the nation, according to the National Education Association – the teachers posing this question are typically the ones considering leaving the profession.
The Next Education Workforce initiative at the Fulton Teachers College aims to tackle some of the issues plaguing classrooms by inviting presenters, educators, researchers and other experts in education from across the country to the virtual two-day staffing summit.
Honing in on staffing structure, the summit highlighted some of the main characteristics of strategic school staffing as distributed leadership, compensation structures, innovative teaming, extended teacher reach and technology that optimizes educator roles. A common theme was counting on “enabling conditions,” such as equitable and sustainable funding for schools, flexible state and district policies, strong focused leadership and access to high-quality technical assistance, in order to maintain the strategic school staffing structure.
“All of this is the set of enabling conditions, the data systems and structures. All of this has huge bearing on our ability to do this work,” Executive Director of Next Education Workforce Brent Maddin said during opening remarks at the summit. Logos of many of the organizations, higher education institutes, school districts and nonprofits that contributed and presented at the event were on full display to give, “a sense of the breadth of people that are doing this work, arm-and-arm, between universities and school systems. We are all part of the solution,” Maddin said.
Statewide policy solutions for school staffing
A proposed policy solution from Gov. Katie Hobbs seeks to have voters extend Proposition 123 and raise the State Land Trust Permanent Fund distribution, which would fund Arizona public schools over the course of 10 years. Hobbs estimates her plan would raise $118 million for school support staff, $347 million for teacher pay raises and $257 million for general school funding.
“Prop 123 might be able to mitigate a little bit of the turnover and the exodus that we’re seeing. But, by itself, it isn’t going to solve it,” Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, a supporter of Hobbs’ plan and former Arizona Educational Foundation teacher of the year, said. “We have tens of thousands – somewhere around 60- to 70,000 certified teachers in Arizona – who won’t teach. So it really is not a teacher shortage, it is a shortage of people who are qualified and willing to teach, so there’s a lot more we absolutely need to do. With the legislative makeup the way it is, I don’t know if we’ve got very much hope of too much happening.”
The Republican plan to raise teacher pay also seeks to tap into Prop 123 but specifies funding for teacher raises and seeks to keep the land trust distribution at 6.9%, compared to 8.9% under Hobbs’ plan. In addition, Arizona Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, is sponsoring HB 2608, which passed in the House earlier this month. The bill would require the State Board of Education to conduct a retention study among school districts and charter schools.
But with varying opinions and proposals across the board, bipartisan agreement on how to fund Arizona educators seems unlikely.
AEA President Garcia said she supports Hobbs’ plan and letting districts manage how they spend their funding versus the Republican plan, which she says incentives pay per performance. “I’m excited that people are talking about this because clearly we’ve been raising the issue for forever.”
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