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Around the NCAAW Weekly: Arizona’s hot start suggests this season’s Wildcats have bite

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The No. 18 Arizona Wildcats are off to their best start in program history, a surprising feat for the defending WNIT champs. Plus, Iowa State’s Ashley Joens and Rider’s Stella Johnson make scoring 20 points (or more) in every game look easy.

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 22 Women’s Arizona at Stanford
Aari McDonald, who had a 44-point game in November, is a big part of Arizona’s success this season.
Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Around the NCAAW Weekly highlights the notable events of the week. Check out the surprises, milestones and outstanding performances of the last week:

Surprise

Arizona

The No. 18 Arizona Wildcats have won their first 10 games for the first time in program history. As of Dec. 12, they also have the longest active winning streak in the nation, with 16-straight victories dating back to last year’s WNIT championship run. The NCAA Tournament’s defending champion Baylor Lady Bears lost to the South Carolina Gamecocks on Nov. 30 to make that possible.

The Wildcats received votes in the AP preseason poll, but have exceeded expectations by rising to No. 18 in the country. They vaulted themselves into the national consciousness with their blowout win over then-No. 22 Texas on Nov. 17. Junior guard Aari McDonald scored 44 points in that game and is averaging 19.8 per contest, a mark that leads the Wildcats and has her in the mix with the top scorers in the nation. As of games played through Dec. 16, she is in fifth place among Power Five players, trailing only Ashley Joens of the Iowa State Cyclones, Chennedy Carter of the Texas A&M Aggies, Rhyne Howard of the Kentucky Wildcats and Chelsea Dungee of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Sophomore forward Cate Reese, Arizona’s second-leading scorer, has been hot lately, scoring at least 16 points in each of her last three games, including a 23-point performance against Tennessee State on Dec. 12. The Wildcats haven’t faced any tough competition besides Texas, which has fallen out of the top 25, but the defending WNIT champs are looking good through the first third of their schedule. They’ve also allowed fewer than 50 points six times in a row.

Top individual performances

Ashley Joens and Stella Johnson

Ashley Joens boosted her points per game average by two whole points on Sunday with a career-high 41 points. She also recorded 13 rebounds, four assists and two steals in that game. Her Iowa State Cyclones defeated the Wright State Raiders 79-71. As of Dec. 16, Joens is second in the nation in scoring average (24.4 points), not just among Power Five players. She trails only Stella Johnson (29.4 points) of the Rider Broncs. Johnson contributed 30 points, eight rebounds and four steals on Saturday in her third 30-point game this season. Johnson has scored 20-plus points in every game this season, while Joens has done that in seven of her nine games played.

Others

Micaela Kelly: 38 points, three assists and four steals for the Central Michigan Chippewas in a win over the South Dakota State Jackrabbits on Saturday.

Elissa Cunane: 28 points and 16 rebounds for the NC State Wolfpack in a win over the Elon Phoenix on Sunday.

Macey Turley: 31 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals for the Murray State Racers in a win over the Southern Illinois Salukis on Sunday.

Milestones

Gary Blair

The head coach of the Texas A&M Aggies won the 800th game of his career on Sunday. The Aggies defeated the Houston Cougars 72-43. Blair previously coached Arkansas and the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks.

Rennia Davis

The Tennessee Lady Volunteers junior surpassed 1,000 career points in a win over the Colorado State Rams on Wednesday.

Taryn McCutcheon

The Michigan State Spartans senior surpassed 500 assists for her career in a win over the Morehead State Eagles on Sunday. She is the second player in Spartan history to reach the milestone and trails her assistant coach, Kristin Haynie, who holds the program record by 73 assists.

Mike Carey

The head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers reached 400 wins at West Virginia on Sunday. He has 688 total wins in his coaching career. The Mountaineers defeated the Norfolk State Spartans 72-55 in order for him to reach the milestone.

Games of the week

Texas A&M Aggies over TCU Horned Frogs last Wednesday, 70-68

The Aggies received a game-winning floater from Chennedy Carter with three seconds remaining to improve to 8-1. Carter led Texas A&M with 25 points (nine in the fourth quarter) and also tallied five rebounds, six assists and three steals. She hit a three to tie the game at 66 with 1:16 to go, made a layup to make it 68-66 in favor of the Aggies with 32 seconds left and delivered on the game-winner.

Maine Black Bears over Green Bay Phoenix last Friday, 61-60

Maeve Carroll hit a mid-range shot from the left baseline as time expired to give the Black Bears a thrilling win. Green Bay’s Frankie Wurtz knocked down two free throws with five seconds remaining to give the Phoenix a one-point lead. A couple passes made it up the court fast enough for Carroll to get a clean look and barely get the ball off on time.

Junior guard Dor Saar led Maine in this upset win with a career-high 30 points, including 8-of-10 shooting from long range. As a team, the Black Bears made 10 triples, while the Phoenix were 0-for-8 in that department. What’s incredible is that Green Bay won the second quarter 18-3 by grinding out points in the paint — using their size advantage over Maine — and the Black Bears still got the win behind a 21-10 first quarter and a 37-32 second half.

Louisville Cardinals over Kentucky Wildcats last Sunday, 67-66

Dana Evans led the way and Kylee Shook came up clutch as the Cardinals came back from down 10 to defeat the Wildcats once Rhyne Howard missed what would have been a game-winning three at the buzzer. Evans had 18 points and 10 assists, while Shook was an uncharacteristic 3-of-5 from downtown. Howard led all scorers with 26 points.

Best upcoming matchup

No. 10 UCLA Bruins vs. No. 12 Indiana

When: Sunday, Dec. 22, at 12 p.m. ET

Where: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN

How to watch/listen: Big Ten Network/HoosiersTV (audio only)

On ESPN2

No. 1 Stanford Cardinal at Texas Longhorns

When: Sunday, Dec. 22, at 1 p.m. ET

Where: Frank Erwin Center in Austin, TX

How to watch/listen: ESPN2/TUNEIN or texassports.com