The No. 20 Arizona Wildcats (8-1) will face their biggest challenge yet when they play the No. 18 Baylor Bears (8-2) on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. ET in one of this weekend’s marque matchups.
The Wildcats have had an excellent non-conference season; they won seven straight to start the year. However, a skeptic would say they have yet to beat anyone of merit. That argument would end on Sunday if they beat the Bears. To accomplish that, they’ll need their starters to take charge. Shaina Pellington is averaging 13.6 points per game, leading all scorers. Esmery Martinez is grabbing 9.6 rebounds and Cate Resse is right alongside those two with 12.6 points and 6.6 rebounds.
The Wildcats will only go as far as their core takes them and a key to that core is Kailyn Gilbert. She may only play 15 minutes a night, but when the freshman gets opportunities and stays aggressive good things happen. Gilbert only played eight minutes against Kansas, so her minutes may go down in this high-pressure game if the score remains relatively close. If she has a good game and plays her season average in minutes, it gives Arizona another scoring threat in the backcourt and provides some extra rest to their high-usage guards. She may be at the back end of the rotation, but a good game from her might be the key to victory.
With the return of Aijha Blackwell, the Bears have their team at full strength right before Big 12 play begins. They’ll need all hands on deck to get this win and with six players averaging double digits in points, they’ll have plenty of options to go with. Still, Jada Owens might be the player to watch. Averaging 10.5 points and 6.2 assists, she is the engine of the offense and her being explosive and effective could make the game that much more difficult for the Wildcats.
Baylor has a good win against No. 25 Villanova and tough losses to No. 15 Maryland and No. 19 Michigan. Another win against a Top 25 team might bump it up the rankings and give it even more confidence heading into Big 12 play and the start of a new year. With 360 consecutive weeks in the Top 25, the Bears are the definition of consistency; another win this weekend would ensure they make it to Week 361.
No. 20 Arizona Wildcats (8-1, 0-0 Pac-12) vs. No. 18 Baylor Bears (8-2, 0-0 Big 12)
When: Sunday, Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX
How to watch: ESPN2
Key to the matchup: These two top teams seem evenly matched on paper as they prepare to square off on Sunday. Arizona will be relying on Pellington’s scoring and Reese’s leadership, while Baylor will have Owens spearheading its offense. With both teams having balanced offensive attacks, it will be the team who has a player step up and play beyond their season average that will likely win the game.