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AZ Desert Swarm Spam Folder: The latest crop of responses to your queries

arizona-wildcats-football-utep-miners-bulldogs-thread-chat-pac12-cusa-live-stats-updates-2023 Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kudos to our readers who stepped up this past week with some great questions for our AZ Desert Swarm Spam Folder. We couldn’t get to them all this week, but rest assured the responses are coming.

For now, here’s what we’ve got for the first Spam Folder of July:

Football has been successful recruiting potentially good QBs. How will they keep them all happy?

Since Jedd Fisch was hired right before Christmas 2020, he’s added three quarterbacks via the transfer portal (Gunner Cruz, Jordan McCloud and Jayden de Laura) and signed two prep passers (Noah Fifita and Brayden Dorman). The Wildcats don’t have a QB commit yet in the 2024 class, and most of the two dozen they offered have committed elsewhere, but expect them to bring one on board before the early signing period in December.

Of the five QB additions under Fisch, one (de Laura) has been a hit, two (Cruz, McCloud) have been misses and the other two (Fifita, Dorman) are still TBD, though Fifita looked good in his limited action as a true freshman and Dorman showed flashes during spring ball.

Ideally, neither of the freshmen QBs will play much in 2023, though both have to be ready to step in if de Laura were to get hurt or became too much like the risk taker he was early last season. Dorman and Fifita know the starting job is almost certain to be open a year from now, and by competing for the backup spot each will try to get a leg up on that competition.

But only one will be the starter in 2024—no more of the co-starters by default that Fisch was forced to do his first season. And whichever doesn’t get that gig may want to look elsewhere, especially if it were Fifita who patiently waited two years.

No position in college football has more transfers, per capita, than QB, since it’s the one that usually can’t really be shared or rotated. Because of this, players will always be on the lookout for another opportunity. Hence, McCloud going to James Madison, his third school, for 2023 after three seasons at South Florida and two more at Arizona.

As long as Fisch, quarterbacks coach Jimmie Dougherty and offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll are upfront with the current young QBs (and those that will follow in future seasons) and don’t make promises of playing time, the only ones that will leave are the ones who decide on their own that the situation isn’t right for them.

Are there any particular gymnasts to watch next season?

It was a big deal for Arizona that Malia Hargrove decided to use her pandemic-related extra year at Arizona. She tied for the regional title on vault this year, missing out on her second trip to nationals in the last three years due to the tiebreaker. She’s the only gymnast on the team who has consistently performed a vault worth 10.0, so she helps on an event that is becoming a stronger one for the GymCats.

Hargrove is also one of the only gymnasts on the team who has performed all-around for the better part of the past two seasons. She was removed from the bars lineup late last season, but she can givevArizona good routines on all four events. She probably should have earned a 10.0 on her vault at least twice last season, including at regionals. She has a career high of at least 9.900 on all four events and an all-around career high of 39.550. If there’s an athlete in NCAA gymnastics who should get more attention, it’s Hargrove.

Another returning gymnast to keep an eye on is Alysen Fears. Fears came to Arizona as a Level 10 national champion on the bars two years ago. Heading into her junior year, she has a personal best of at least 9.800 on all four events and an all-around personal best of 39.350. She has scored 9.900 or better on both bars and floor exercise.

Other dark horses are Caroline Herry, Liz LaRusso and Jess Castles. Although Arizona was most consistent on the beam last season, the leg events have turned into much stronger events for the GymCats over the past few years. It’s because of gymnasts like Hargrove, Fears, Castles, Herry, and LaRusso that they’ve been able to make those improvements.

It’s not just about the returners, though. Head coach John Court and his staff have done a strong job recruiting. They have the 15th-ranked class coming in this season according to College Gym News.

Abigayle Martin and Sophie Derr are both rated as four-star recruits, leading the way for the class of six. Half of the class is rated as either three or four stars.

Why doesn’t McKale Center host NCAA Tournament men’s basketball games anymore?

Since opening in 1973, McKale Center has served as a host for the NCAA Tournament 11 times. Two of those were regionals, while the rest were first-weekend pods.

But the last of those times as host was in 2011, one of only three times it has hosted since 2000, and it probably won’t again.

There are several reasons for this, many having to do with the requirements by the NCAA for available space for things like media, hospitality, etc. McKale also doesn’t have a full allotment of elevators, particularly those that can be taken down to the ground floor, so there are some ADA compliance issues.

It’s also on the small side for first-weekend venues. All eight that hosted first- and second-round games in March held at least 15,000, though in 2022 Arizona played in 12,414-seat Viejas Arena in San Diego and that venue is on the books again for 2026.

Then there’s Arizona’s own teams to consider. The men can’t play on their home court the first weekend, and that would leave only one other site out west for the Wildcats to go. And if men’s games were held at McKale, it would also mean the women’s squad—which can play at home—wouldn’t be able to do so.

How will the women’s basketball team fare next coming season?

I would not expect to see dramatic changes in the results this upcoming season. Arizona has a lot of talent, but head coach Adia Barnes will once again be integrating seven new players. What makes it more challenging to do that this season is that she’s down to just one player who has more than one year’s experience in the program.

Helena Pueyo will be playing her fifth season as a Wildcat, but beyond her, the most experienced players in Arizona’s system are Esmery Martinez, Kailyn Gilbert and Maya Nnaji. All are in their second season as Wildcats and the latter two are in just their second season in college basketball.

Last year, the Wildcats still had Cate Reese, Shaina Pellington and Madi Conner to go with Pueyo. Conner’s year-and-a-half in the program was the shortest of those three players. Although she was out with injury, they also had Lauren Ware at least bringing experience to the group. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of those particular players, they knew what to expect and how Barnes likes to run her program.

Barnes seems to feel that part of the problem last year was focusing on things that weren’t really “Arizona basketball.” She said after their season that the identity of the program is going to be defense.

The other problem for Arizona is that several teams have gotten a lot stronger. Chief among those is UCLA, which not only return some of the best players in the conference but also did well in the transfer portal. The Wildcats were neck-and-neck with the Bruins for the fourth spot in the Pac-12 last season.

There’s every reason to expect that UCLA will push past Arizona next season.

It would not be a surprise to see Arizona playing on the first day of the Pac-12 Tournament for the first time in several years. The Wildcats should still make the NCAA Tournament. They have the talent to do that. Their early round games will likely be played on someone else’s court, though.

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