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What we learned from Arizona’s win vs. Eastern New Mexico

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Cate Reese and Aari McDonald are good at basketball

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball team routed Eastern New Mexico 88-31 on Monday in their first of two exhibitions.

Our recap can be found here, and here are some additional takeaways.

Cate Reese is legit

The McDonald’s All-American had an outstanding debut, posting 21 points and 14 rebounds in just 21 minutes. The freshman forward was 9 of 12 from the field and showcased a dynamic skill set.

Reese’s first two baskets were step-back jumpers. The rest were near the rim, combining a soft touch with unrelenting aggression.

“She could have probably had 40 tonight,” said UA coach Adia Barnes. “She’s just fearless. She’s a fierce competitor, she does not care, she plays hard, she takes it full court, she’s aggressive. She does things you can’t teach. That’s just innately who she is and that’s one of the reasons I loved her in the recruiting process and I wanted a player like that, because you can’t teach that. And I think it’s contagious.”

Perhaps what stood out most was the way Reese would corral a rebound and initiate transition offense. Reese said she handled the ball plenty in high school and Barnes is “perfectly fine” with her doing it at Arizona.

“Now if we start to turn the ball over a lot then I won’t be, but right now it’s OK,” Barnes joked. “I do like her to kick it up, she can always get it back, but she’ll learn that. But a lot of times they didn’t stop the ball, so I don’t mind her taking it coast to coast.”

What does concern Barnes is how often Reese tumbles to the ground, one downside of the motor she plays with.

“She has to learn how to fall,” Barnes said. “I talked about it in the recruiting process. She falls a lot. In high school she fell about 25 times a game. So we have to teach that and I think some of that is going to be her strength, her body control and balance, and I think that will improve.”

McDonald equally impressive

Aari McDonald showed why Barnes believes she will be one of the best point guards in the Pac-12, dropping 20 points in 19 minutes in her UA debut.

The Washington transfer continually found her way to the rim, allowing her to go 10 of 12 from the field.

“She’s so fast,” Barnes said. “They can play a zone and she can still find a way to snake through the zone. She’s just such a catalyst on offense the same way Cate is.

“Aari brings us so much more athleticism on the perimeter. Cate, you see the versatility in our posts. They can bring the ball up the floor and finish. I think that’s just a lot of fun to watch.”

No surprises in the starting lineup

While Barnes played things close to vest leading up to the game, Arizona’s starting lineup configuration was never really in doubt.

It was always assumed they were going to start McDonald, Reese, Sam Thomas, Dominique McBryde and Lucia Alonso, and that’s exactly the five Barnes rolled with.

“I like the fact that we’re relentless on the boards, we can do a lot of different actions, roll and rise, we can play 4-out, 1-in,” Barnes said when asked what she likes about that unit. “I like the way we run, I like the way we defend with that first group. Because a lot of times when we had different combinations you saw our defense (fluctuate). We’re working on those combinations, but we’re pretty set on a seven-person rotation.”

Arizona opened the game with a 19-2 lead. Reese had 10 points and six rebounds in the first quarter.

“We can definitely score,” McDonald said of the starting lineup. “We have great chemistry right now and hopefully we keep that momentum (going).”

Alonso and McBryde surprisingly had quiet games, combining for nine points on 4-of-12 shooting.

“Dominique will play a lot better,” Barnes said of the Purdue transfer.

“We just looked different”

McBryde did reel in eight rebounds alongside Reese, helping the Wildcats own a whopping 45-21 advantage on the glass.

That stat alone tells you how improved their frontcourt is, Barnes said.

“I can’t remember the last time I sat here and we won the boards against anybody,” she 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.”

It was a far cry from last year’s exhibition against Eastern New Mexico when Arizona only outrebounded ENM by five and even got outscored in two quarters.

“We’ve improved so much from last year. We went from no posts at all to just having some size inside,” Barnes said. “I thought we showed some spurts of really good defense. There’s still a lot of areas to improve in, but we just looked different.”

Still struggling to shoot

The Wildcats were the second-worst 3-point shooting team in the Pac-12 last year, and those struggles re-emerged Monday.

Arizona was 4 of 11 from 3, a mark that would look a lot worse if not for Sam Thomas, who sank all three 3s she attempted.

“I’m not that worried about it,” Barnes said. “I knew they were going to play some zone, especially the way we shot the ball last year, but I think we have capable shooters, so I’m not that concerned. I thought we had really good looks.”

Barnes loved the confidence her team shot with, especially Thomas.

“One of the things that was a bright spot tonight was that Sam took it in transition, no one stopped her, and she pulled up for a 3,” Barnes said. “I don’t mind that.”

Thomas, a small forward, mostly played inside last season, but will be on the perimeter more this year thanks to the influx of size.

“She went 3 for 3, I don’t mind if she takes six,” Barnes said. “She’s a great 3-point shooter.”

Defense will probably be the focus in practice this week

Arizona’s second and final exhibition is next Monday against Western New Mexico. The Wildcats will be trying to tune up their defense before then.

“I thought our hedges were really flat. I really wanted to be more aggressive,” Barnes said. “I thought that at times we played in spurts of really solid defense. We were forcing them to catch the ball way behind the 3-point line, but we would do that for two minutes and we didn’t do that for the rest. And I thought were helping way too much on the strong side and getting sucked in and allowing shots. And our principles aren’t to help off the strong side. Those little discipline things are things we can correct and we can show them on film.”

McDonald and Reese both said Arizona needs to communicate more.

“We need to work better on hedges and talking about screens and switching,” Reese said. “But overall I think it was a pretty good first game.”