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Arizona women’s basketball season review: Semaj Smith

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 31 Women’s UCLA at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats never got to complete their historic 2019-20 season. After setting one record after another and securing what was sure to be a chance to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the team saw its drive for a special ending to the year stopped in its tracks when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sports world in mid-March.

While we’ll never know what this team could have accomplished in the NCAA Tournament, a full regular season and conference tournament worth of competition is more than enough to assess each individual player’s performance.

Semaj Smith

  • Year: Sophomore
  • Height: 6-foot-6
  • Position: Center
  • 2019-20 statistics: 31 GP, 8 GS, 14.3 MPG, 3.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.9 BPG, 0.3 SPG, 49.4 FG%, 85.7 FT%

Season breakdown

When the season started, several players were asked who had improved the most since last year. Semaj Smith came up time and again. Her season backed up her teammates’ confidence in her, especially when Dominique McBryde went down with injury and Smith stepped into the starting lineup for eight games in December and early January. Her club went 5-3 over that stretch with all three losses coming against top-10 teams.

Smith improved in just about every area of the game—dramatically so in some areas. From the charity stripe, she went from 37.5% to 85.7% shooting. She also saw a 20% increase in her number of trips to the line per 40 minutes. Her effective field goal percentage jumped from 41.8% to 52.9%.

However, Smith continued to struggle with fouls on both ends of the court. The illegal screen is still her enemy and her size does her no favors in the officials’ eyes.

While Smith did improve on the number of fouls she got whistled for this season, they were still excessive. If she were allowed to play 40 minutes per game, she would average six fouls per contest. She wouldn’t even be able to stay on the floor for an NBA team at that rate.

Still, there were bright spots on the defensive end. Smith was fourth in the Pac-12 in block rate and 109th in Division I, finishing just behind Stanford’s Ashten Prechtel. That puts Smith in the 97th percentile in the sport.

On the boards, she was by far the most effective rebounder on the team. Her offensive rebounding rate ranked the best on the team at 9.3%, according to Her Hoop Stats. That placed her in the 83rd percentile across the country.

On the defensive end, Smith had a rebounding rate of 22%, which placed her just inside the top 150 in the sport. That placed her in the 95th percentile. Her 16% total rebounding rate placed her 182nd in the country.

Best stretch of play

As to be expected, Smith’s best stretch of play came after McBryde was injured and the sophomore was forced to take on the job of protecting the paint. When the senior went down in the Monmouth game, Smith stepped in as if nothing had happened. She would keep it up for seven straight games until the team ran into Oregon.

She had her highest-scoring game against Monmouth, putting up 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting. She also grabbed six rebounds and blocked a shot over 19 minutes of play.

Beginning with Monmouth, Smith averaged 25.7 minutes per game over seven contests. She hit 19 of her 35 shots (54%) and averaged seven rebounds per game. She also averaged 1.6 blocks per game.

Worst stretch of play

Right after her hot streak, Smith had the roughest time of her season from a statistical standpoint. That this coincided with her being moved back to a reserve role should be no surprise.

Beginning with the Oregon game on Jan. 10, she would play double-digit minutes only once over five games. She put up only two shots, although she did make both of them. She averaged a single rebound per contest.

The low point came when Arizona State came back to Tucson. The Wildcats put the finishing touches on the season sweep, but Smith didn’t have much to do with it. She played only two minutes and her lone stat was a turnover.

Quotable

Cate Reese on playing alongside Smith while McBryde was injured: “Last year, a lot of times we were not in together—for a reason, I guess. It’s nice to be able to build that chemistry ...because Dominique, this is her last year, and it’s gonna be important for Semaj and I to be able to work together, especially looking forward into the future next season.”

What’s next?

When Smith got on the court, she showed that she has a lot of promise. She just needs the opportunity to put it all together. Will she get that opportunity? She will have to fight for it, because a new crop of bigs will be walking onto campus as soon as the coronavirus gives us the all-clear.