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One thing Aari McDonald can improve in senior season with Arizona women’s basketball

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aari-mcdonald-arizona-wildcats-womens-college-basketball-improvement-2021-senior-wnba-adia-barnes Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

On June 17, the NCAA voted to allow basketball programs to begin required activites with coaches starting on July 20. Activities can continue for up to eight weeks, ending either on the first day of classes or Sept. 15, whichever is first. The NCAA had already voted to allow voluntary weight training and conditioning at team facilities.

Unfortunately, the Arizona Wildcats had some additional hurdles to clear before welcoming student-athletes back to campus. The basketball teams were supposed to return to campus on July 20, then finally get on the court on July 27. With the barriers still in place, that return didn’t happen.

On June 29, Arizona Athletic director Dave Heeke froze the return of any more student-athletes due to the state’s growing COVID-19 numbers. That followed the governor’s executive order that shut down gyms in the state beginning on June 28.

The women’s basketball team has even more challenges than the average team on campus. The large international contingent kept the entire freshman class from arriving in time for summer work last season. At that time, the roadblock was international competition.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic has created new issues in the form of travel bans into the U.S. Arizona not only returns five international players from last year’s team, but the Wildcats add two in this year’s class.

The program has players from Australia, Canada, Spain, Latvia and Turkey on the roster. Presently, international students can return to the U.S. directly from Australia, Canada and Turkey, but students within the Schengen Area (which includes Latvia and Spain) cannot. International students from restricted areas are being told that they must first spend 14 days somewhere that isn’t restricted before entering the country.

Since basketball was shut down in March, the players, coaches and support personnel have been meeting virtually. Players have been doing their best to keep in shape on their own. The ability to engage in conditioning has varied considerably, though. Adia Barnes said that some of the players in Europe were not even allowed to leave their apartments at one point.

After conditioning is addressed, players and coaches can think about improvements that need to be made. What does each player need to improve on?

Over the summer, we have taken a look at one area of improvement that each returning player can address. We wrap that up with the final installment which focuse on All-American Aari McDonald.

Assist-to-turnover ratio

McDonald has a few areas of her game that could use improvement. While the weaknesses would not have kept her from being drafted in last April’s WNBA draft, addressing them will help her be the kind of impact player she strives to be once she becomes a pro.

It certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Wildcats, either.

To reach her potential at the next level, McDonald will need to address both her assist-to-turnover ratio and 3-point shooting. To some extent, both depend on her teammates being more offensively-minded, but McDonald’s decision-making is crucial, as well.

As Barnes has pointed out, many of McDonald’s 3-point shots are step-back 3s late in the clock. She rarely gets to catch and shoot. If she’s ever able to reduce the number of those shots, McDonald’s 3-point percentage should come up. That’s going to require her teammates to take more of the shots earlier in the clock, though.

The philosophy that you’re never more open than when you first catch the ball might be helpful for the Wildcats. The players often hold the ball just long enough for the defense to close on them. As a result, McDonald ends up having to take too many shots late in the clock, and they’re not always good shots.

Being unselfish is a positive, but sometimes it can look like fear of shooting the ball. That’s not so positive.

Things aren’t dire, though. On the assist front, McDonald is solid when compared to her peers. Her 3.6 assists per game placed her in the top five percent of Division I players last year. Her assist rate of 28.7 percent placed her mere tenths outside the 97th percentile.

McDonald is able to find open shooters and her teammates are able to hit many of those shots, but her assist-to-turnover ratio still falls below the 1.0 line. That hurts Arizona against the best teams, and it’s not going to help McDonald as she moves to the next level where the defenders on the perimeter are much more sound and the defenders in the paint are much larger.

Where she struggles is protecting the ball. Her 3.8 turnovers per game gave McDonald a 0.95 assist-to-turnover ratio last season. Her turnovers per game are in the bottom two percent of Division I. Only 59 players are ranked below her by stats service Her Hoop Stats.

The fact that she ranks 184th in assists per game rehabilitates her assist-to-turnover ratio by a considerable margin, pulling her up to the 66th percentile in that stat.

That’s not to say that there weren’t problems with distributing the ball, though. While McDonald’s turnovers per game were identical both seasons at Arizona, her assists per game as a junior dropped by a full point when compared to her sophomore season.

Can McDonald find a way to decrease her turnovers while returning to her 2019 form in assists? If she can, Arizona’s Final Four potential will be scary.

Take a look at our evaluation of Aari’s junior season...

Did you miss previous installments in this series? Here’s where you can find them...