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Arizona women’s basketball notebook: On adding transfers, Aari’s WNBA potential, Reese’s improvement, and more

Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

It has only been five days since the Arizona Wildcats won the WNIT, but it has felt like two weeks for head coach Adia Barnes, who has not rested since cutting down the nets.

The Wildcats’ coaching staff has busy exploring the transfer market as they look to solidify the 2019-20 roster.

“Right now women’s basketball is really crazy because there is a ton of transfers, and there is a lot of people in this portal, so players are popping up every day,” Barnes said. “There’s a lot of movement around the country and I think good and bad. The downfall is people are losing players, but the positive thing is you have opportunities to add some really good players or fifth-years. So we’re kind of diving into that and just finding ways to get better.”

Barnes said the Wildcats hope to add two transfers this offseason in addition to the five freshmen they have coming in, though that could change if they can’t find players that fit.

“If they don’t make us better on and off the court, I’m not even taking a chance,” Barnes said of the transfer market. “There’s two ways you can think about it. A transfer can help you right away and then can bring a championship, a winning attitude and help you in different ways. Or you look long-term for transfers.

“I’m not huge on transfers, but if they can help us and I know people that know them or that have coached them, and I know it’s a good situation, I’ll take them. But from my past experience, I’m not someone who would take like five transfers. ... It’s something I wouldn’t really have looked at in the past, but now I think as we’re getting better, there’s pieces that can really help us get to that next level.”

The Wildcats are set to return their entire starting five. Barnes said adding shooting and size are the main priorities. She wouldn’t mind adding an athletic guard, either.

“But we’re going to bring some talented freshmen in too and you want to develop them,” Barnes said. “There’s a balance with that.”

Click here to read about Arizona’s 2019 recruiting class, which consists of five international players.

More depth equals more problems?

When asked how Arizona’s style of play will change next season, Barnes said the Wildcats will be able to go deeper into their bench which should lead to defensive improvement.

“I think the problem is keeping everybody happy,” she said. “Kids are leaving programs every year so it’s very easy when someone’s not playing to jump ship. There’s a balance of that.

“Like Semaj (Smith) this year. Semaj did great. Some games she didn’t play, some games she played a little bit. She always had a great attitude, she was a great teammate. I think in a lot of situations players aren’t like that. They don’t play or they don’t play enough or they’re AAU coach or parents are telling them they should be starting. All those things happen, but I think for us having more depth will make us better because I think you can play better for 32 minutes versus I don’t think you’re going to play every possession when you’re playing for 38. I think that’s just human nature.”

A tougher schedule ahead

Arizona did not play any major-conference teams in non-conference play last season, but you can expect that to change in 2019-20, with Texas and Missouri as possible opponents, I’m told.

“But it’s still not going to ever be seven Power Five schools in non-conference,” Barnes said. “It’s just not until we’re like a top-five team in the country when it’ll be very different. Right now our Pac-12 (schedule) is so good.”

Reese expected to take leap

Former McDonald’s All-American Cate Reese averaged 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in her freshman season and improved as the year went on, averaging 14.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in the WNIT.

Barnes outlined where the forward needs to improve the most.

“Cate should be able to finish better, not fall so much. You should see an improved 3-point shot. She has to become more versatile,” Barnes said. “She’s got to have a go-to move and not always settle for fadeaways. She’s got to get stronger and finish better. She has to be able to step away and shoot it consistently from 3, and that’s how her game will have to evolve because she’s never going to be the power, back-to-the-basket five.”

Aari has WNBA potential

The WNBA Draft took place Wednesday and Barnes envisions sophomore point guard Aari McDonald having her name called in a few years, even though she will be seen as undersized.

“But she has to get better,” Barnes said. “She has to be a little bit more efficient with the ball. She’s got to improve her mid-range game ... and she has to be a higher percentage 3-point shooter. But I think also as we get better, her percentages will get better because she won’t work so hard for shots. And I think that as our players get better, she won’t have as many turnovers. But that’s still areas that she has to get better, but I think she has a bright future. I think she has the potential to be a really high draft pick, but she’s got to work and she’s got to want it. It doesn’t just come.”

McDonald set UA’s all-time single-season scoring record, and was the only player since 2000 with 800 points, 200 rebounds, 150 assists and 90 steals in one season.

Barnes does not expect McDonald to replicate those numbers next season.

“I do think her scoring will go down just because we’ll have more balance and that’s what I want,” Barnes said. “But I think she’s still gonna have good numbers because her defense creates so much offense. She get steals, makes plays, that’s just what she does. And she’s going to play minutes here, so I think if (her numbers) went down, it wouldn’t like cut in half, but I think it’ll go down and I think her efficiency will go up.”