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Improved 3-point shooting highlights Arizona women’s basketball’s exhibition vs. Eastern New Mexico

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 17 Women’s Colorado at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Arizona women’s basketball held its first exhibition Sunday against Eastern New Mexico, and Adia Barnes had a simple answer when asked what she took away from it.

“Well, we like to shoot the 3,” the UA coach said after the 85-38 win.

Barnes has talked about her team needing to make strides in that area for over a year now, and its improvement showed Sunday.

Not only did the Wildcats like to shoot 3s, they converted them at a high rate. Arizona went 15 for 33 (46 percent) from behind the arc, a far cry from the 30.6 percent they shot as a team last season.

“I talked about to you guys at the end of the year that we had to stretch the floor a little bit and become better shooters and recruit better shooters, and we have done that,” Barnes said. “One of the advantages is...we have multiple guards that can shoot the ball, so it opens the floor for Aari (McDonald) and for Amari (Carter) and for different guards, so I was really happy with that. There was some possessions—like five possessions in a row—where we were just living and dying by 3. I didn’t like that. But I thought overall 15 for 33 from 3 is pretty impressive.”

The newcomers did their part. Freshman Helena Pueyo led all 3-point shooters by going 3-4 from outside the arc. Fellow freshmen Mara Mote and Sevval Gül each went 1-2, and Birna Benonysdottir hit her only outside shot.

Everyone except Lucia Alonso and Semaj Smith hit at least one 3. Alonso was a 39 percent shooter from 3-point range last year, so that’s not concerning for her. As a 6-foot-5 center, Smith probably shouldn’t be shooting 3s anyway.

McDonald noticed the difference.

“I was talking about it with a couple other players,” she said, “and we definitely agree that we’re a better three-point shooting team this year. And so I’ve seen that the floor is really spread. So that kind of helped me, so I didn’t have to drive all the way. People were open, and they knocked all the shots down.”

McDonald only played 16 minutes but still led the team with 14 points and five assists.

Barnes expressed some concern about the defense, even though Arizona held ENMU to 24 percent shooting.

“We have to stay disciplined a little bit more,” she said. “We’re jumping like popcorn every time at a shot fake. We weren’t good at that. But I thought overall we did pretty good. And we have to be better, but that’s what exhibitions are for.”

Barnes has already seen improvement from Gül, who has cut back on her fouling. The Turkish post player committed four Sunday, and she probably could have been whistled for more if the officials were calling a tighter game. That’s still better than her last outing.

“We had a scrimmage against GCU a couple weeks ago,” Barnes said, “and Sevval had like nine fouls, so she almost fouled out twice. I think it was three seconds in the key—we had Pac-12 officials—and she had a tough time. I thought she just did really well, a week later, today. But I think just the pace of the game is a little faster than she’s used to. But I think it’ll just take maybe a couple more weeks. I think she’ll get a little more fit. That’s my job to make sure she does.”

Despite any fitness concerns, Gül still had a very impressive afternoon. She was second on the team with 10 points. She filled the stat sheet with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and three blocks.

Gül played a team-high 26 minutes, which Barnes admitted was partially to teach her how demanding the college game is.

“I think the pace of the game is a little bit different. For Sevval, she was a little bit winded. I saw a couple of times she’s doing this,” Barnes said, crossing her hands over her head. “I didn’t take her out on purpose.”

Things will change when the Wildcats face the North Dakota Fighting Hawks on Nov. 5 to open the regular season.

For starters, Cate Reese will be back. The freshman was held out for rest reasons. Fellow starter Tee Tee Starks was also sidelined. Her status is day-to-day as she rehabs an injury, Barnes said.

What other changes occur are more up in the air. Mote played a lot of point guard against ENMU, but that’s not her usual position. In international play, she is generally either a shooting guard or a small forward.

Despite playing out of position, Mote had four assists, second-most on the team behind McDonald, to go with eight points.

When back at it for real, the Wildcats hope to show the lessons they learned in the offseason, both on and off the court.

Barnes reiterated Sunday that the team’s goal is to make the NCAA Tournament.

“I would say we’re just trying to come out with a bang this year,” added junior forward Sam Thomas. “With The Program that we did, we talked about attacking everything 100 percent, 100 percent of the time. So we’re just kind of trying to show that every game.”