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: 5-foot-10
- Position: Guard
- 2019-20 statistics: 17 GP, 5.5 MPG, 2.4 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.4 APG, 0.2 SPG, 42.4 FG%, 50.0 3FG%, 50.0 FT%
Tara Manumaleuga came to the Wildcats early, arriving in Tucson in Jan. 2019 as an early enrollee. The Australian guard is a legacy Wildcat of sorts. Her cousin, whom she often refers to as her uncle, is Brandon Manumaleuna. He was a tight end for the Arizona football team in the final years of the Dick Tomey era who went on to spend a decade in the NFL.
Like most of the freshman class, Manumaleuga found her minutes limited on the experienced team. When she made her way to the floor, though, her shooting prowess stood out. What ultimately held her back was her struggle to hold onto the ball.
Manumaleuga went 14 of 33 from the floor and shot better from 3-point distance than from inside the arc. Ten of her 14 made baskets were 3-pointers, and her effective field goal percentage was an impressive 57.6 percent.
Her 50 percent accuracy from distance was the best 3-point shooting percentage on the team this year. She hit 0.6 3-pointers per game on 1.2 attempts despite playing just 5.5 MPG in 17 contests during 2019-20.
What wasn’t so impressive—especially for a guard—was her 0.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. Manumaleuga had just six assists to 10 turnovers on the season and was removed from at least a game or two after giving the ball away.
She is the youngest of the freshmen and arrived earlier than the rest of her class. When she came to Tucson, she was still six months shy of her 18th birthday.
Best stretch of play
As was the case for any freshman not named Helena Pueyo, Manumaleuga had most of her opportunities and most of her success over the first few games of the season. She came out of the gate looking comfortable with her shot and on the boards, getting into games against North Dakota, Chicago State and Prairie View A&M.
In her first three appearances, Manumaleuga went 6 for 11 from the field with all but one shot attempt coming from 3-point distance. All six of her makes were 3-pointers, and she hit all three of her shots against Chicago State. The nine points she scored that night accounted for her career high.
She averaged 9.3 minutes per game in her first three contests, playing a career high 13 against Prairie View A&M on Nov. 20. She also grabbed six boards in those appearances, four of them in that late-November game. She dished out an assist in each contest, but also had three total turnovers to go along with her three dimes.
Worst stretch of play
As expected, Manumaleuga didn’t see much action in Pac-12 play. She was on the floor just 17 minutes over eight games. She didn’t appear at all after Arizona’s win in Utah on Feb. 21.
Her final three games were the weakest stretch of her season. She played just three minutes in total against Washington, Washington State and Utah. She didn’t shoot the ball and the only stat she accumulated was a single turnover against Washington State.
After Arizona defeated UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 21, Adia Barnes spoke about how her freshmen did in the non-conference portion of the schedule: “Tara is a freshman. She’s going to be a very good player. She’s going to help us a lot. She shoots the 3. She comes in and she’s not afraid. But she’s learning.”
Arizona will once again be stocked with talented guards next season, so Manumaleuga will be a role player. If she can get her turnovers down, she can be an effective floor-spacer for the Wildcats.
That’s not just a promising scenario for Manumaleuga. That’s a promising scenario for Arizona. Barnes as been looking for a way to consistently space the floor for a couple of years. Manumaleuga could be a critical force in meeting that goal.
While she will likely never start for the Wildcats, Manumaleuga can be the equivalent of Lucia Alonso during the Spanish guard’s senior season. Alonso averaged almost 14 MPG and appeared in 29 of the team’s 31 games her final year in Tucson. She was good on over 41 percent of her long-range shots, and she took far fewer 3s per minute played than Manumaleuga did. With Manumaleuga’s fearlessness and her accuracy, she could be just what the doctor ordered when Arizona needs someone to come in and hit those 3s.