Cate Reese set career highs, Sam Thomas went 4 for 4 from the floor, including three made 3s, and the Arizona Wildcats opened the season with a 74-42 home victory over North Dakota in front of 3,450 fans.
Our complete recap of the game can be found here, but let’s take a look as some of the bright spots and things to improve on from Tuesday night’s game.
A happy birthday for Cate Reese
Reese sat out the Wildcats’ exhibition game, but was back on the court for her 20th birthday. It was quite the celebration.
The forward led the game with a career highs in scoring (22) and steals (5). She also grabbed six rebounds, one behind Dominique McBryde for the team high.
“I always expect that from Cate,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “I think she can get 20 points, 10 rebounds every night. I thought tonight she just was fierce and she was hungry. And probably a little bit more motivation because she didn’t play in the exhibition, but she’s improved.
“She’s a lot stronger finishing now. She only falls on the floor like three times a game instead of 12 as a freshman. Stronger finishes that are more confident. Just a little bit more efficient. Has improved her outside shot, which it didn’t show tonight because she was a little gassed because she hasn’t practice a whole lot the last couple weeks. But she’s really improved outside. And I think she played a really good game. It’s a career high, so that’s really good. I mean, 22 points in 27 minutes. I’m proud of her.”
Reese expects it from herself, too.
“I’d like to have that every performance, not just because of my birthday,” she said. “But it’s nice just to have a game on my birthday and celebrate it with my teammates and the fans.”
Spreading the minutes
McBryde played 28 minutes and Reese was on the court for 27, but no one else came anywhere near that many. The Wildcats have had to run their top players into the ground over the past two seasons. If Tuesday was any indication, that’s a thing of the past.
McDonald got her 13 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 steal in just 21 minutes. That’s more than 14 minutes less than she averaged per game last season.
Thomas has averaged over 35 minutes per game in her two seasons at Arizona. On Tuesday, she played only 23.
Those were the only four players who were on the court for more than 20 minutes.
“My goal for this non-conference is to not play Aari tremendous minutes,” Barnes said. “It’s to play her minutes, but not have to play Sam, Aari, those players 38 minutes and, then, against the Pac 12, they hit a wall and they look like zombies. So I want to save their legs a little bit. We want to win games and get better, but then just be able to rest them a little bit.”
Four of Arizona’s five freshmen got into the game. Helena Pueyo and Mara Mote stood out, showing why Barnes is so high on their games.
Mote once again spent a great deal of time running the point when McDonald wasn’t on the floor. In just under 14 minutes of play, she had three assists and a steal. Among the players who backed up McDonald at the position, it seemed to flow best when Mote was running the offense.
“Mara? Solid,” Barnes said. “She comes in, she doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. She runs the offense. She does the little things. She had a great steal that gave us momentum. So I think she played a good game.”
Pueyo had eight points in just shy of 15 minutes. She also had two assists, including a nice bounce pass to Reese in the paint in the first half.
“Helena does what she does,” Barnes said, “and I think we’re only seeing a glimpse of how good she is. I mean, her 3-point shots are like layups. So I’ll never tell her not to shoot the 3. I may tell some other people not to, but I mean, she’s 2 for 4 from the 3 in 14 minutes. She’s very efficient. And she’s deceptive. She has a lot of length from the guard position. So she gets a lot of steals when she doesn’t look like she’s that fast, but she’s long. So I think she’s gonna continue to grow and she’s going to be a great asset for us.”
Last season, the Wildcats were regularly outrebounded by their opponents. With the added size this season, it should be a problem of the past. It wasn’t Tuesday.
The Fighting Hawks led the home team 10-8 on the boards after the first quarter. It wasn’t until the end of the first half that the Wildcats were able to tie things up at 20 rebounds apiece, and they would end up with a slender one-board advantage at 40-39.
North Dakota boasts a little bit of size, but Arizona gave up a game-high 13 rebounds to Melissa Leet. The Wildcats will need to be tougher on the boards if they hope to challenge Texas or most of their opponents in the Pac-12.
“We still have a lot to improve on,” McBryde said. “We are a bigger team than them and we only outrebounded them by one. So that’s something we have to get better at.”
The Wildcats fell into periods of stagnation, especially during the first half. McDonald left with 3:54 to go in the first quarter. The team didn’t score for the final 3:42 of that.
At the end of the third quarter, with neither Reese nor McDonald on the floor, things broke down again. The team was set to take the final shot, but instead passed the ball around too many times. It landed in the hands of McBryde, who was forced to try to create something off the dribble as the clock wound down. That’s not her game, and it wasn’t surprising that it was unsuccessful.
“I’m playing a lot of different combinations,” Barnes said. “A lot of combinations that probably won’t play together that much, but I’m trying to find some tendencies and trying to find some trends with lineups and see how efficient we are. And I’m trying to put people together in different combinations in game situations. So I think that’ll clean up a little bit, but you can see it some spurts...some of those groups will not be playing together much.”
Foul line? What’s that?
The Wildcats shot only three free throws while putting the Fighting Hawks on the line 19 times. That’s the kind of advantage that Arizona is used to having.
Only McDonald and Reese were able to get to the line at all, and neither did it with any regularity.
“I am shocked...because Aari usually shoots like 10 or so,” Barnes said. “Yeah, so that tells me that when I look at the three point attempts eight for 23 and I look at our lack of free throws, that tells me we settled a lot. It tells me we didn’t play a balanced attack, we didn’t play inside.”