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Aari McDonald honored again as Arizona heads into opener against North Dakota

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

The biggest news for Arizona women’s basketball on Tuesday was supposed to be the home opener against North Dakota. It probably still is, but there was also another preseason honor for junior guard Aari McDonald to stir the interest in the Wildcats.

McDonald’s name popped up on the Wooden Award Preseason Top 30 list Tuesday morning. She has already been named preseason All-Pac-12 by the media, appeared on the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award preseason watch list for the nation’s top shooting guard, and been tabbed as one of the top 25 players on ESPN’s list of the best in women’s college basketball.

McDonald and her team will make their regular-season debut on Tuesday evening when North Dakota comes to town. The Fighting Hawks went 12-19 last year overall and 6-10 in the Summit League, but were able to knock of the second-seeded Denver Pioneers in their conference tournament.

North Dakota is a young team that features only one senior in point guard Alaina Jarnot. Jarnot led the Fighting Hawks in assists last season while appearing in all 31 of their games.

They will be trying to find new offensive leaders when they open their season against the Wildcats after losing their top two scorers to graduation. Their top returning scorer is junior Julia Fleecs, who averaged 8.9 points per game on 45 percent shooting last year. The 6-2 forward is also the top returning rebounder with an average of 3.4 rebounds per game in 2018-19.

In addition to McDonald, Arizona will rely heavily on forward Cate Reese. The sophomore led the Pac-12 in scoring and rebounding by a freshman last season on her way to the All-Freshman Team. It will be Reese’s first appearance this season after sitting out the team’s only exhibition game for rest.

Reese has received her own preseason accolades with a place on the Katrina McClain Award preseason watch list. That award goes to the nation’s top power forward.

In all, the Wildcats return eight players from last season—including all five starters—and lost only two to graduation. They added seven players, six of whom are immediately eligible.

Arizona’s five freshmen all come from overseas. Freshman post Sevval Gül was the second-leading scorer in Arizona’s exhibition against Eastern New Mexico. Fellow freshmen Helena Pueyo and Mara Mote also played important roles on a team that went 15 for 33 from outside.

The Wildcats and Fighting Hawks will tip off at 6:30 p.m. MST in McKale Center. The game will be streamed on Arizona Live Stream. Stats will be available via Arizona Live Stats.