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.
- Year: Freshman
- Height: 6-foot-3
- Position: Power forward
- 2019-20 statistics: 16 GP, 6.8 MPG, 1.6 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.4 APG, 48.1 FG%
Gül didn’t get on the court a lot this season. Even though Arizona only had five “bigs” on the roster, the first three—Cate Reese, Dominique McBryde and Semaj Smith—were pretty entrenched. It didn’t help that Gül missed summer preparation in 2019 while she played for her national team.
She has shown her worth on the court playing for her country. In 2018, at the Women’s U18 European Championship, she was good for 10.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG and 1.1 APG. She helped her team reach the semifinals of that event.
The 6-foot-3 forward has experience learning from the best in Europe and Asia in club ball, as well. She came to Tucson from Fenerbahce, one of the perennial top teams in Europe and the best in Turkey. There, she learned alongside such stars as former Pac-12 Player of the Year and WNBA No. 1 draft pick Kelsey Plum.
That past led Adia Barnes to state more than once that Gül would be a professional basketball player one day. Her first task, though, was to conquer NCAA basketball.
First, she needed to get into shape. At the Wildcats’ first exhibition, Barnes admitted that she left her freshman in despite knowing that she was winded. It was a lesson that needed to be learned about getting fitter, the coach said.
Gül was able to cement herself as the second big off the bench behind Smith, but there just weren’t enough minutes to go around. She did show signs that she could be effective if she were able to earn more minutes, but her ability to play solid defense without fouling held her back.
Over 6.8 MPG in 16 games, Gül averaged 1.6 PPG and 1.4 RPG primarily against the weaker portion of Arizona’s schedule. She played just 37 minutes in Pac-12 play, appearing in eight league games. She did not make an appearance after Feb. 16.
Despite the fact that she was playing against weaker opponents and in very limited minutes, Gül still averaged 1.1 personal fouls per contest. Over 40 minutes, her numbers work out to 9.4 points and 8.2 rebounds, but the personal fouls figure out to a whopping 6.5 per 40 minutes.
While it’s true that Gül’s personal fouls are skewed by a few very poor games early in the year, they also show just how hard it is for an inside player to adapt to the college game. It’s hard for all freshmen to learn to defend without fouling once they get to college, but especially for bigs.
Like it or not, there’s some amount of respect from the officials that older players have gained. Add that to the steep learning curve that the freshmen encounter, and you’re likely to see a player who amasses 14 fouls in just 61 minutes over her first six games.
In two of her first three contests, Gül racked up four fouls in 15 minutes or less. That’s something she and her coaches will have to continue to address, especially since it’s something that also bedevils fellow big Semaj Smith.
Best stretch of play
Gul was at her most effective over the final three games of November. After the big win over Texas, the Wildcats came back to Tucson to face Prairie View A&M. That was followed by a trip to Montana and a home victory over UC Riverside.
The freshman forward went 8 for 14 from the floor over those three contests. She also grabbed 10 boards. Against Prairie View A&M, she threw in two assists and she had a career-high eight points against UC Riverside.
Worst stretch of play
Notwithstanding the final three weeks of the season when she didn’t see the floor, Gül’s worst streak of actual play was probably the first three games of her college career. She went 2 for 7 from the field, averaging 1.3 PPG and 1.3 RPG over 8.7 MPG.
Her biggest struggle was on defense, where she couldn’t keep from fouling. In just eight minutes on the court against North Dakota, she was whistled for four fouls.
She would get called for four more in 15 minutes against Chicago State. Considering that Chicago State would win just one game all season—and has only won four in the last four years—that was a major concern.
Her fouling issues improved as the season went on, but it’s something that international players and bigs have to adapt to. Despite the fouls over the first three games, Barnes saw that improvement.
After the Wildcats’ only exhibition game, Barnes talked about the improvement she was already seeing in Gül and what both of them needed to do in order to keep building on that: “We had a scrimmage against GCU a couple weeks ago, and Sevval had like nine fouls. So, she almost fouled out twice. I think it was three seconds in the key—we had Pac-12 officials—and she had a tough time. I thought she just did really well a week later today. But I think just the pace of the game is a little faster than she’s used to. But I think it’ll just take maybe a couple more weeks. I think she’ll get a little more fit. That’s my job to make sure she does.”
Not being able to work with her team during summer school may have limited Gül last year, but things are unlikely be improve on that front this year. Barnes said that Gül is currently not even allowed to leave her apartment due to COVID-19 restrictions in Turkey. That will do her no favors as far as preparing for next season.
Gül has proven in her native country that she has promise, and Barnes believes her future will lead her to the professional ranks in Europe. First, she will need to earn time on the court at Arizona, and that’s not going to be any easier next year.
McBryde is gone, but Reese and Smith are back. Arizona will also add promising freshmen bigs in Lauren Ware and Marta Garcia, not to mention an impressive grad transfer in Trinity Baptiste.
Gül might have an even bigger challenge next year than she did last year. If she wants to be the pro her coach believes she can be, that challenge is worth conquering. The Wildcats need her to conquer it.