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Arizona forward Dominique McBryde returns to practice, but remains questionable vs. Oregon schools

Meanwhile, Aari McDonald was named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25

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

Adia Barnes would love to have Dominique McBryde in the lineup when the Arizona Wildcats host a pair of top-five teams this weekend, but the senior forward remains questionable as she continues to recover from a right ankle sprain.

McBryde returned to practice this week but will only suit up when she is 100 percent. Barnes is hoping that could mean this weekend vs. No. 3 Oregon State and No. 2 Oregon. McBryde has been sidelined since Dec. 2. Sophomore Semaj Smith has been starting in her place.

“It’s one of those things as a coach, you don’t want to rush something like that,” Barnes said. “Because what happens is you rush her, and then she comes back for a week and she’s out for another month. So on these type of things, there’s an ankle sprain, we know it’s bad. You have to let her have time and it’s better for me to play her when she’s 100 percent because then I have her for the rest of the year, not try her when she’s 50 (percent) and it doesn’t help when she’s out of rhythm. It’s just not good, so we’re patiently waiting.”

The Wildcats have gone 5-1 without McBryde, but their frontcourt faces its biggest test yet when the Oregon schools visit McKale Center. Both teams feature some of the top post players in the country.

For Oregon, it’s 6-foot-4 senior Ruthy Hebard, who averages 17 points and 10 rebounds per game on 70 percent shooting. For Oregon State, it’s 6-foot-4 freshman Taylor Jones, who averages 14 and 8 on 61 percent shooting and was just named the USBWA National Freshman of the Week.

Arizona suffered its first loss of the season Sunday at No. 9 UCLA in part because it could not contain Michaela Onyenwere, who finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds on 9-of-13 shooting.

“Dominique is who matches up against those players, but I think Cate (Reese) has done a tremendous job, so has Semaj (Smith),” Barnes said. “And I think the hard thing is with Dominique out, we don’t have an experienced rotation. So we have Semaj and Cate, and then we have freshmen behind them. So I think that’s been a challenge.”

The lack of depth was especially apparent against the Bruins when fouls started piling up. Reese finished with four fouls, while Smith and small forward Sam Thomas each fouled out.

It affected Arizona’s ability to defend as aggressively as it usually does.

“Dominique does a lot of great things that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but I just miss her physicality, her talk and her putting other people, the posts, in their places and just her spacing ability,” said UA point guard Aari McDonald. “Like when I drive Dominique knows exactly where to go and where to find herself to be put in a good position to get a good shot. And I just really miss her talk and really miss her defense as well.”

McBryde was averaging 5.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game before getting injured.

McDonald named to Wooden Award Midseason Top 25

McDonald is one of just 25 players who made the Wooden Award midseason watch list. The award is given to the nation’s top player.

McDonald is currently 15th in the nation in scoring at 20.1 points per game and has scored in double-figures in 51 straight games, the second-longest active streak in the nation and the longest in the Pac-12.

McDonald’s field goal percentage is up from last season when she averaged 24.1 points per game, but her 3-point efficiency is down from 28 percent to 23 percent.

Most of her stats have declined from last season, but it can be traced to the fact she is averaging 28.8 minutes per game instead of 35.8.

“She’s a lot more vocal, more consistent,” Barnes said. “A year ago at practice, she wasn’t bringing it every day in practice. She is now. More competitive, a better leader, reading game situations a lot better, I think a lot stronger going to the basket. And I have to keep on saying her 3 will get better. I have to talked to her because she’s having to take a lot of hard 3-point shots. And it’s hard if you take four 3s and they’re all step back 3s contested at the end of the shot clock, you’re gonna have a low percentage. So my conversation with her is you can get the rim at anytime. So take the 3s you want and don’t take such hard 3s.”