It’s a good thing the Arizona Wildcats have depth. It will be tested Saturday when they head east to El Paso where they will likely be without some key players when they visit the UTEP Miners.
Starting power forward Dominique McBryde and backup freshman guard Mara Mote suffered ankle sprains Monday vs. Monmouth. And while head coach Adia Barnes expressed optimism that both will be available Saturday, she said it would likely be in a limited role if they are able to give it a go.
“I’m looking at the big picture a few weeks from now,” Barnes said, alluding to the start of Pac-12 play.
In that case, McBryde seems unlikely to suit up. She was on crutches after Monday’s game. The senior is averaging 5.1 points and 3.4 rebounds and is regarded as the team’s best defensive post player.
“You don’t realize how much you miss Dominique till she’s not on the floor,” Barnes said. “She does so many things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. She is like the point guard from the post position. Missing her, it’s a problem for us.”
But not as big of a problem as it would have been in Barnes’ first three seasons, when the Wildcats had a short rotation. This year, they are regularly rotating 10 or more players, including a host of freshmen.
“Last year, if Dominique would have went out, it would have been devastating for us,” Barnes said. “And it still is because Dominique is so valuable, but at least we have Sam (Thomas) that can play multiple positions. We have Semaj (Smith) with a little bit more experience. So it’s going to be better.”
There is also Cate Reese, who is playing the best basketball of her career, averaging 13.8 points and 8.0 rebounds on the season. The sophomore had 16 points and 11 rebounds on 5-of-9 shooting Monday, elevating her game after McBryde was helped off the court.
“Well, I was just happy because Cate Reese had some great left-handed moves,” Barnes said. “You saw her celebrating. We work on that every single day. I think Cate’s playing so strong. She’s been extremely efficient. I challenged the team today to get to the free throw line, so Cate had eight free throws. Cate’s so competitive. Whatever you ask of her, she’s gonna go do. She reminds me a lot of just me when I was a player.”
Smith stepped up too, posting a career-high 15 points off the bench.
“I think tonight it was her best game overall with finishing and rebounding,” Barnes said. “I felt like her teammates found her and I liked the way she stuck with it. She had a couple missed easy buckets in the first half and then she came back and she converted on those. But I mean 15 points, six rebounds and 18 minutes is extremely efficient. That’s the next step for Semaj. Every game that’s what she’s capable of doing.”
The Wildcats were also without Sevval Gül after she suffered a concussion after banging heads with Shaina Pellington in practice. The 6-foot-5 freshman does not have a big role, but every minute counts. The Turkish post player has lots of upside but is still trying to find her way in The States.
Arizona’s backcourt is just as banged up. Redshirt senior Tee Tee Starks has not debuted this season due to a shoulder injury and isn’t expected to play much, if at all, until conference play. She is a steady 3-point shooter and arguably the team’s best perimeter defender.
Her replacement, Penn State graduate transfer Amari Carter, has been cautiously playing through a hamstring injury lately, only averaging eight minutes over the last two contests despite being in the starting lineup.
With Carter and now Mote limited, that has meant more playing time for sophomore Bryce Nixon and freshman Helena Pueyo, who posted a career-high 15 points and three assists in a season-high 32 minutes Monday. The smooth Spaniard, capable of playing multiple positions, is third on the team in scoring (9.3 ppg) and one of its best 3-point shooters (.484).
Even with the litany of injuries, Arizona is 8-0, ranked for the first time since 2004, and has posted an average scoring margin of 33.4. The Wildcats have the 10th-best offensive rating and second-best defensive rating in the country.
It’s good to have depth.