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Arizona women’s basketball notebook: On cracking the Top 25, McDonald’s Pac-12 honor, Pellington playing for Canada, and more

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 22 Women’s Arizona at Stanford Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s been a busy week for Arizona women’s basketball. As they got ready to face Eastern New Mexico in their only exhibition game of the season, they were also reacting to preseason honors and Olympic dreams.

Aari McDonald named to preseason All-Pac-12 team by the media

While Arizona power forward Cate Reese was seeing her name on the preseason Katrina McClain Award watch list on Oct. 24, teammate Aari McDonald was being named one of the top five players in the conference.

The Pac-12 announced that McDonald was one of the honorees on the preseason All-Pac-12 team as voted on by members of the media who cover the sport.

This wasn’t the first preseason accolade for McDonald. On Tuesday, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced that she was one of 20 shooting guards to make the preseason Ann Meyers Drysdale Award watch list.

McDonald joined Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard, UCLA’s Michaela Onyenwere, and Oregon State’s Mikayla Pivec on the preseason All-Pac-12 team. Ionescu was the only unanimous selection on the team.

The media agrees with the coaches

The conference also announced the media’s preseason rankings on Thursday. Just as the coaches predicted at the beginning of the month, the press placed Arizona at No. 6 in the league. Once again, Oregon was overwhelmingly chosen to win the league, while one voter gave the nod to Stanford.

The media and coaches polls were almost identical except for one change at the bottom of the league. While the coaches expect California to finish next-to-last in the conference, the press placed them tenth, flipping Washington State to No. 11.

espnW ranks Arizona in their top 25

It’s not just media members in the Pac-12 communities that are taking notice, either. On Monday, espnW released their preseason Top 25. Arizona came in at No. 19.

While it’s not the AP poll or the national coaches poll, it’s still a big deal for a program that last made one of those national polls in 2004. The poll is voted on by Charlie Creme, Michelle Voepel, and Graham Hays, all of whom cover women’s college basketball for ESPN.

Wildcat fans may also take satisfaction in the fact that ESPN’s team didn’t rank their rivals up north. Although ASU is ranked above Arizona in both the Pac-12 coaches and media polls, the other Pac-12 teams who landed on the ESPN list are No. 1 Oregon, No. 4 Stanford, No. 6 Oregon State, and No. 12 UCLA.

Also of interest to Arizona fans is No. 15 Texas. The Wildcats will travel to Austin to face the Longhorns in November.

Shaina Pellington named to Team Canada again

Former Oklahoma guard Shaina Pellington is sitting out this year due to NCAA transfer rules. That doesn’t mean that she’s not working on basketball goals, though.

Arizona coach Adia Barnes has talked about how important Pellington is in practice because she has what so many lack: the ability to keep up with McDonald—at least sometimes.

Those skills aren’t just helping Pellington in Tucson. They’re also serving her well back in her native Canada.

Pellington was one of 16 players named to the Canadian national team that will compete in the FIBA Women’s Olympic Pre-Qualifying Americas Tournament. That tournament will be held in Edmonton, Alberta between Nov. 14-17.

The tournament is part of the qualifying rounds that will form the field for the 2020 Olympic Games held in Tokyo. Pellington is one of only four amateur athletes to make the squad.

Facing the crowd

On Sunday, the Wildcats played in front of their fans for the first time since cutting down the nets as postseason WNIT champions last season. Almost 2,000 people turned out to see the new Wildcats face Eastern New Mexico in their only exhibition game of the season.

Barnes related the support back to that WNIT run.

“Winning the WNIT, it gave us momentum, confidence,” Barnes said after watching her team defeat ENMU 85-38. “(It) helped, I think, in the community with fans. I mean, there’s never usually 2,000 fans at exhibition games.”

The program made more reserved season tickets available this year after fans demanded them. They had already sold almost 2,600 season tickets at the end of September and were aiming for 3,000.

“We were talking about 1,000 the first year,” Barnes said at that time. “We’ve already sold all the courtside seats. We’ve already reserved and opened up three more sections.”

The regular season gets underway on Tuesday, Nov. 5 when Arizona hosts North Dakota. That game will start at 6:30 p.m. MST and is available on Arizona Live Stream.