Just like the fans do for the Arizona men’s team, fans of Arizona women’s basketball stand until the opposition scores at the beginning of each half. When the Texas Southern Tigers and Wildcats retook the court after halftime, the fans stood for almost three minutes.
That kind of defense isn’t new for Arizona, but this TSU team scored 71 points last week against a DePaul team that received votes in this week’s AP media poll. The Wildcats locked down the Tigers in a 93-38 rout.
Just as she was in the big win against Louisville on Friday, senior forward Cate Reese was the catalyst. Reese had a double-double when she grabbed her tenth rebound at 7:26 in the third quarter. She had only played for about 12 minutes. She grabbed one more board, then headed to the bench about 75 seconds later, ending her night with 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting.
“She’s our go-to player right now,” head coach Adia Barnes said. “Offensively, she’s playing at a high level. She’s playing like an All-American. She’s shooting the three. She’s defending. Well, I mean, you guys remember, Cate couldn’t defend her first couple years. She struggled. Now she’s defending. She’s even defending guards sometimes. She’s improved tremendously. She’s worked her butt off.”
It is what Arizona fans have come to expect from Reese over the years. In the second quarter, she became just the 15th player in Wildcats’ history to score at least 1,200 points.
None of the starters played for long. Sam Thomas and Lauren Ware were on the floor the most out of the first five. Even they didn’t hit 18 minutes on the clock.
As she did in the exhibitions and the home opener, Barnes found plenty of time for all of her reserves. The players made good use of them in a variety of ways.
Madi Conner scored 10 points. Aaronette Vonleh hit 5 of 7 shots. Koi Love had four steals. Ariyah Copeland had seven rebounds. Taylor Chavez had three assists.
For Love and others who have transferred in, there are still things they need to adapt to in order to be comfortable. Love was a big scorer in her short time at Vanderbilt. In 12 games over two years, she averaged 17.2 points per game. On Monday, she scored just four points in 14 minutes of play. Rather than put up big offensive numbers, she helped her team in other ways: four steals, three rebounds, and two assists.
While Love racked up steals in her time with the Commodores, she and Barnes believe there is a lot she needs to learn to play Arizona defense.
“Coming in from Vanderbilt and high school, you just kind of guard your yard, 5-on-5 half court,” Love said. “But here, we’re really into pressing and just 55-foot, full court. So just kind of learning that and getting into that system is something I’m working on right now.”
Barnes sees the progress in Love and several others.
“She’s getting better defensively,” Barnes said. “She’s learning the system. She’s still not comfortable yet. She’s still unsure of certain things, but it’s a whole new system for her. It’s a completely different style of play than she’s ever played.”
Love saw what she’s working towards, though. After the game, the group gathered on the visitors' bench as they watched a video celebrating their 2021 Final Four appearance and watched their banner be revealed.
“It’s definitely a reminder why I came here,” Love said. “Adia says all the time that they were very good last year, but this year, she thinks we’re even better. So I think just going out there playing with a chip on our shoulder and just knowing that we can do even more—and more than a Final Four is a championship.”
For Reese, it was a bittersweet experience to see the video montage that accompanied the banner reveal.
“It’s sad to see some of the teammates—Aari (McDonald) and Trinity (Baptiste)—that aren’t here anymore, but I think it just shows the hard work,” Reese said. “I think we should be back there this year, honestly.”
Barnes is certainly not satisfied with one Final Four banner, although it was special to be part of earning the program’s first one.
“Unfortunately it’s not a championship banner, so that kind of stings a little bit,” Barnes said. “But it’s a tremendous accomplishment, and it’s something that our players did and so it’s really cool to see. Hopefully before my career is over, we’ll have more banners.”
The 6,261 fans who came out on a Monday night to see the celebration didn’t show that they felt any sting of it not being a championship banner. Instead, they applauded the sentiments of the Arizona athletic director.
“Congratulations and thank you, Adia Barnes, for coming home,” Dave Heeke said.