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Breaking down Arizona women’s basketball’s non-conference schedule

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 07 Women’s Arizona at Washington Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Arizona women’s basketball season is right around the corner with fall practice set to start on Tuesday, Sept. 24. After winning the WNIT last season, the Wildcats are aiming for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005.

Now that the full schedule has been released, here is a deep look at what Arizona will be up against during the exhibition and non-conference season.

Exhibition season

Vs. Eastern New Mexico (19-11, 14-6 Lone Star Conference)

The Greyhounds were one of Arizona’s two exhibition opponents last season, but will be the only warm-up for the Wildcats in 2019-20. The team was no challenge last season, as they lost to Arizona by a score of 88-31.

Eastern New Mexico played well once they faced off against their Division II foes. They are a solid D-II team; they’re just overmatched against a Pac-12 opponent.

ENMU finished the regular season at 19-9. Although they lost in the opening round of the LSC conference tournament, they were one of five LSC teams selected to the NCAA Division II Tournament. As a No. 8 seed, they went out to top-seeded West Texas A&M in the opening round by a score of 68-67.

Non-Conference

vs. North Dakota (12-19, 6-10 Summit League)

2018-19 RPI: 224

The Fighting Hawks had a rough season, but tried to do some damage in the Summit League tournament. They opened their conference postseason with a win over No. 3-seeded Denver in the quarterfinals before bowing out to No. 2 South Dakota in the semifinals.

North Dakota graduated six seniors last season. Their top returning scorer is Julia Fleecs, who will be a junior this year. She was third on the team with 8.9 points per game last season.

vs. Santa Clara (14-17, 6-12 WCC)

2018-19 RPI: 163

Santa Clara should be an improved team in 2019. Unlike last season, they will have an experienced group this season, returning their top five scorers and rebounders from a year ago.

The Broncos will look to senior guard Tia Hay and junior forward Ashlyn Herlihy to lead once again this season. Hay led the team with 15.5 ppg last season, while Herlihy was second with 10.9. Hay was also the best distributor on the team, accounting for 4.2 assists per game.

On the boards, it was Herlihy who led the squad with 7.4 rpg. She was followed by senior Lauren Yearwood with 6.5 rpg. Yearwood added 2.5 blocks per game, as well.

at Chicago State (2-28, 2-14 WAC)

2018-19 RPI: 348

There’s no way to sugarcoat this match-up, even though it will be played on the road. Chicago State was not good last year. At all. The year before? They were even worse, going 1-28. The year before that? 0-29.

When the team beat Utah Valley in February of 2018, they ended an NCAA-record 59-game losing streak. They haven’t won more than six games since the 2010-11 season.

This isn’t a matter of one down year for the Cougars. It’s going to take a while for second-year coach Misty Opal to get things turned around.

at Texas (23-10, 12-6 Big XII)

2018-19 RPI: 28

This will be far and away the best non-conference opponent the Wildcats have faced in a few years. The Longhorns had bad luck on the injury front last season, yet they still managed to win 23 games and make it to the NCAA Tournament.

The Longhorns lost senior Lashann Higgs to a torn ACL four games into last season. The 5-foot-9 guard was averaging 13.8 ppg, which would have led the team if she had kept that up for the full year. They still had four players who scored in double figures.

Two of those players will return. Higgs was granted a medical redshirt, so she will join them on the 2019-20 squad.

Texas also adds quality from the recruiting trail. Their lone domestic recruit was No. 20 overall player Celeste Taylor. She is joined by Australian Ashlee Hannan.

With the game taking place on the road, Texas will certainly be favored in this one. If the Wildcats can manage to steal it, though, it would do good things for the RPI and the confidence.

This game could be the difference between an NCAA berth and another trip to the WNIT. A win would certainly give Arizona some breathing room once conference play rolls around.

vs. Prairie View A&M (17-14, 13-5 SWAC)

2018-19 RPI: 188

The Panthers joined the Wildcats in the WNIT last season after losing to Jackson State in the SWAC Tournament semifinals. Prairie View A&M would bow out to TCU in the first round of the WNIT.

The team will need to replace the points of four of their top five scorers, all of whom were seniors last year. The top returning scorer is Dominique Newman, who averaged 8.3 ppg. That was good for third on the squad.

Arizona will be returning to McKale after two straight road games.

at Montana (14-16, 9-11 Big Sky)

2018-19 RPI: 187

Last season, the Grizzlies and the Wildcats met in Tucson in a game that got a little chippy down the stretch, including a questionable intentional foul called on Aari McDonald and some very physical play by the Montana guards. Whether that played into it or not, Bryce Nixon put the ball in the hoop to push the score to 100-51 in the final seconds rather than pulling back and running out the clock.

The Wildcats will also be facing a former teammate, Sammy Fatkin, who transferred to Montana after her freshman season. The junior point guard was not yet eligible when the two teams met last season, although she did play the second half of the season for the Grizzlies.

vs. UC Riverside (17-15, 10-6 Big West)

2018-19 RPI: 159

The Highlanders finished as the No. 3 seed in the Big West Tournament last season, bowing out to Hawai’i in the semifinals. Their stay in the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI) was cut short by Utah State. That team had only one senior.

UCR returns its top two scorers, seniors Jannon Otto and Marina Ewodo. Otto averaged 15.2 ppg last season. Ewodo wasn’t far behind at 11.9. Junior Keilanei Cooper was knocking on the door of double digits with 9.4 ppg.

With their experience, the Highlanders should take a step forward, but Arizona and McKale Center will likely be too much for them to handle.

vs. Monmouth (14-17, 9-9 MAAC)

2018-19 RPI: 215

The Hawks made their way to the semifinals of hte MAAC Tournament before being dominated by Quinnipiac to close out the year. The team returns their top two scorers from last season, senior Sierra Green and sophomore Lucy Thomas.

at UTEP (9-22, 5-11 C-USA)

2018-19 RPI: 258

The Wildcats beat the Miners 62-40 in Tucson last year. This season, UTEP will be Arizona’s final road game before conference play.

The Miners were an extremely young team in 2018, listing only one senior on their roster. They return four this year.

The problem for UTEP is that they should be returning five seniors. Zuzanna Puc, who led the team in both scoring and rebounding last season, transferred to Utah in the off-season. In Puc’s absence, the top returning scorer will be Katarina Zec. She and Puc were the only two Miners who averaged double-digit scoring last season.

vs. Tennessee State (5-26, 5-18 OVC)

2018-19 RPI: 305

Third-year head coach Jessica Kern will be trying to turn around a program that has only won 11 games in her first two seasons. It will be a difficult task if they play the kind of non-conference schedule they did last season. The Tigers faced multiple major conference opponents, including No. 5 Louisville, before kicking off OVC play.

Adding to the difficulty is the fact that TSU lost their leading scorer, Tia Wooten, to graduation. Their second-leading scorer returns, however. Junior Taylor Roberts was the only other player to average double-digit scoring over the entire season last year.

vs. UC Santa Barbara (8-22, 5-11 Big West)

2018-19 RPI: 289

The Wildcats’ final game before heading to Tempe to start Pac-12 play will be against the Gauchos of UCSB. As with most of the teams on Arizona’s non-conference schedule, they are coming off a losing season. At least the Gauchos had the excuse of being a very young team last year.

UCSB had only one senior last season, and she only accounted for 1.8 ppg and 1.1 rpg in 10.8 minutes of play. The five regular starters included two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman.

Former four-star recruit Coco Miller led the team with 12.7 ppg. Danae Miller was third with 9.7 ppg while leading the Gauchos with 4 assists per contest.