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Arizona women’s basketball season review: Mara Mote

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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.

Mara Mote

  • Year: Freshman
  • Height: 5-foot-11
  • Position: Guard/Forward
  • 2019-20 statistics: 20 GP, 6.4 MPG, 1.6 PPG, 0.6 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.4 SPG, 38.5 FG%, 45.0 3FG%, 75.0 FT%

Season breakdown

Mote came to Tucson from the top club in her native Latvia. TTT Riga is where the Latvian national program sends its best players to develop together. She played predominantly for their junior team, but also saw some time with the senior team as a reserve.

Mote was one of four members of the Wildcats’ freshman class who didn’t arrive on campus until August because of commitments to her national team. It was worth it, as she averaged 10.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game while leading Latvia to four wins in the 2019 U19 World Cup.

When she landed in Tucson, she found that she would have more to learn than just a new culture. She would also need to learn a new position. Mote has always played on the wing for her club and national teams, but Adia Barnes wanted to see what she could do at point guard.

Mote showed some skill at the position early in the season. She was a bit prone to turnovers, but that’s to be expected from a freshman playing a new position. While it’s really risky to extrapolate from just 6.4 MPG over 20 games, from a purely statistical standpoint, Mote was good for 4.4 assists per 40 minutes.

Her move to the one probably had more of an effect on the minutes of another player. Sophomore Bryce Nixon, who played point guard in high school, saw her minutes reduced in her second year as Mote stepped into that role.

Both players had a 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and committed about 0.6 turnovers per game, but Mote had the better shot. The freshman hit 9 of 20 3-pointers over the course of the season, while Nixon was only good on 1 of 12 from beyond the arc and 4 of 22 overall. With Barnes coming into the season saying that they needed more shooters, that ultimately worked in Mote’s favor.

Nixon would transfer to Santa Clara after the season.

Best stretch of play

As with most of the freshmen, Mote got most of her minutes in the non-conference portion of the schedule with November being her best month.

Mote appeared in every game in the month of November averaging 8.9 MPG over those seven games. While she played for less than one minute against Santa Clara and Texas, she had double-digit minutes in four of those contests.

She was fairly effective in her role as a back-up point guard, dishing out eight assists over that period. On the down side, she also had eight turnovers.

She went 8 for 17 in the month of November including hitting 7 of 13 shots from 3-point distance. Her high-arching jumper made a memorable appearance in the last game of the month when she hit 4 of 5 shots, all from beyond the arc, for a career high 12 points against UC Riverside. She would be player of the game that night, hitting the big drum at center court seven times to count off the season wins.

Worst stretch of play

After her big game against UC Riverside, Mote didn’t play much and didn’t have much in the way of a statistical impact when she did. It’s to be expected. There’s a big step up in competition from UC Riverside to UCLA.

She only appeared in 10 games during Pac-12 play, averaging 6.0 MPG and 0.7 PPG in those contests. Her biggest contribution was in assists, where she still averaged 0.5 APG in those 10 appearances.

Quotable

When asked how the adjustment to NCAA basketball was going, Mote replied, “It’s really physical here. And being the new one, the freshman, it’s hard learning all the new stuff. And some of the rules are different and we can’t reach that much on defense. We’ve got to be disciplined.”

What’s next?

All of Arizona’s international players went home as soon as in-person classes and the basketball season were cancelled. Barnes said that they and their parents feared that they might not be able to get home if they didn’t go immediately. So, Mote is home in Latvia until it’s all clear to rejoin the Wildcats.

While there were some losses at the guard position—Lucia Alonso and Amari Carter graduated in addition to the transfer of Nixon—there are some incoming guards, as well. Mote will be competing with Helena Pueyo, Shaina Pellington, Derin Erdogan and, possibly, Bendu Yeaney for the minutes that were shared by Alonso, Carter, Pueyo, Mote and Nixon last season.

Mote will still be a reserve. She will likely play at the wing and, perhaps, a bit of backup point guard. That flexibility will give her more ways to earn minutes, but she also has some improvements she needs to make if she wants to appear in every game.

Mote can also back up Sam Thomas at the three, but only if her defense gets stronger. She’s not going to be the kind of natural defender that Thomas is, but few players are. She can get a better handle on what’s required to be a solid NCAA defender, though. When she does that, Barnes will have the opportunity to take advantage of Mote’s strong shot from distance without having to worry about what happens to other parts of the game.