In the season opener, the Arizona Wildcats started out with a victory over the Idaho State Bengals, 71-46. Both teams struggled with mistakes, but ultimately the Wildcats were able to maintain a lead for most of the game and come away with the victory.
Idaho State started the scoring, and it took a while for the Wildcats to get going. It wasn’t until a three-pointer from Cate Reese with 3:35 remaining in the first quarter that Arizona took their first lead.
The game “kind of woke us up that the season is here, and we have to prove a point to all the other teams out there that we’re not the same team as last year,” Reese said.
Reese continued to pour in the buckets early, going 3-3 from deep in the first half and ending the first two quarters with buzzer-beating jumpers. She would end the game with 21 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double in her Arizona debut.
“I’m used to it,” said Reese. “I got a lot of double-doubles last year. It’s nice to get them in college now too.”
After the early slump, all of the Wildcats got involved in shooting the three. Incredibly, Arizona made more than half of their threes in the first half, going 8-for-15 from deep and just 5-for-16 from inside the arc. They finished a still-impressive 10-22 from deep.
These early threes included the first points of the season for the ‘Cats, a Sam Thomas three, and Reese’s aforementioned dominance from behind the arc.
The second half also started slow, with only five points between the two teams in the first five minutes of the third quarter.
The inside play did improve in the third quarter, mostly thanks to Destiny Graham. Graham had four rebounds in two minutes in the middle of the period.
One of the primary story lines in the exhibition season was interior players struggling with foul trouble. Unfortunately, that continued in the opener, with Dominique McBryde picking up two personal fouls early in the first quarter. Her third foul came on a close call on a charge in the second. Her fourth came early in the second half, severely limiting her playing time.
Graham and Reese also had trouble with fouls, both picking up three before the half. Reese was the only one who fouled out, finally getting her fifth late in the game.
“It’s a little bit of a concern,” said coach Adia Barnes, “those are just a lot of silly fouls...but those are things we can correct.”
There were still positive signs, though. Most importantly, even a sloppy game resulted in a 25-point victory.
Another one of those positives was clearly Reese, whose presence was felt in every aspect of the game.
“She’s just so aggressive, confident, she doesn’t hold back, she’s not afraid...those are things you can’t teach,” Barnes said of Reese.
Another positive was the guard play, particularly Aari McDonald. McDonald finished with 22 points and a very impressive 10 rebounds for a point guard.
“She’s a very good rebounder,” Barnes said. “She’s one of the smallest guards, but we send her in for the boards, and you could see that tonight.”
McDonald referred to herself as “a very aggressive player,” adding, “I will sacrifice my body for a win and for my teammates.”
She also said it was a relief to be back on the court after sitting out a season after transferring, claiming she had been counting.
“It’s been 595 days since I last played, and it was great to get back on the floor after two years,” McDonald said.
Arizona is now 1-0 on the season. They won’t have many difficult opponents before Pac-12 play begins, but there were enough promising signs mixed into a sloppy performance to show that this team could still be something special.