Getting used to playing with each other and getting confidence were what Arizona coach Adia Barnes wanted in the exhibition and pre-conference season. For fans, the draw was seeing the hyped freshman class finally take the court in McKale Center. It was worth the wait, as the Wildcats blew out the Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds 88-31.
Former McDonald’s All-American Cate Reese lived up to her press. She finished the first quarter with ten points, six rebounds, and a steal. By the time she was removed with 1:57 left to go in the third, she had gone 9-12 from the field with 21 points, 14 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. If there was any criticism, it was that she went 3-7 from the free throw line.
Not to be overshadowed, the rest of the Wildcats showed why the coaching staff is excited about the improved talent on the team. Last season, Eastern New Mexico gave Arizona all they wanted. The Greyhounds outscored the Wildcats in two quarters when they faced off last October.
This season, Arizona would have none of that. They ran out to a 12-0 lead before ENMU finally scored with 6:13 left in the first quarter. Those were the only two points the Greyhounds would put on the board in the first. Arizona held Eastern New Mexico to single-digit scoring in three of the four quarters.
Despite holding the Greyhounds to 31 points, Barnes pointed to the defense as the primary weakness.
“I thought our hedges were a little flat,” she said. “We need to be more aggressive. That’s why we’re getting hedged. I thought at times we played in spurts of really solid defense. We were out forcing them to catch the ball way beyond the three-point line. But we would do that for two minutes, and then we wouldn’t do that for the rest. And I thought we were helping way too much off the strong side and getting sucked into allowing shots. And our principles aren’t to help off the strong side.”
On the offensive side of the ball, efficiency was the name of the game for the Wildcats. They started off shooting 58.8% from the field in the first quarter, and peaked at 90.9% in the third. The lowest percentage came in the final quarter when all of the starters were on the bench.
Much of the improved efficiency can be attributed to the introduction of Aari McDonald to the starting line-up.
“We just look different,” Barnes said. “Aari brings us so much more athleticism on the perimeter.
“She’s so fast. They can play a zone, and she still finds a way to snake through the zone. She’s just such a good athlete.”
Three-point shooting was a concern for most of the game. Arizona missed all five attempts from beyond the arc in the first half.
Sophomore Sam Thomas was the lone bright spot from distance, connecting on all three of her attempts in the third quarter. Freshman Bryce Nixon was the only other Wildcat to hit from three with the team going 4-11.
“One of the things that was a bright spot tonight was that Sam took it in transition, and no one stopped her, and she pulled up for three,” Barnes said. “And I don’t mind that, because I want her to be more aggressive from the three-point line.”
The theme of the night was the inside game, though. From rebounding to the 62 points in the paint, Arizona showed that the focus on recruiting size has paid off.
“I can’t remember the last time I sat here and we won the boards against anybody,” Barnes said. “That’s a positive thing because we have more depth and athleticism. I’m happy about that because every single game was brutal on the boards.”