Exhibition games are a time to sort out lineups, give freshmen time to adapt to college basketball, and just generally see what your roster looks like. After the second exhibition of the season, Arizona women’s basketball has done all of that. The Wildcats also scored in triple digits for the first time since Dec. 5, 2018 when they defeated Montana 100-51. This time it doesn’t count as an official game, but they will still remember that they defeated Arizona Christian by a score of 110-39.
“I feel like even though these aren’t real season games, we still treat them as they are,” said freshman guard Madi Conner. “So it doesn’t seem like all these games don’t matter, like it’s just a scrimmage or whatever.”
Arizona was led by freshmen who took things seriously. Conner joined the team in January as an early enrollee, but she didn’t play much in the run to the national title game. It may be difficult to keep her off the floor this season.
For the second straight week, Conner was at least tied for the game high in scoring. This time, she was alone in leading all scorers with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting. All of her shots were from beyond the 3-point line. She added one rebound, two assists, and a steal.
“I felt really good,” Conner said. “My teammates are finding me in the right spots, and that’s my job to knock down open shots.”
Just as impressive was the performance of true freshman Gisela Sanchez, who could turn out to be the most effective international player at Arizona since Helena Pueyo arrived three years ago. In just a week, she has shown growth.
Last week, Sanchez entered the game with a group that was composed almost entirely of other freshmen. She showed a smooth, aggressive game, scoring seven points on 3-for-5 shooting. She had two rebounds and an assist.
This week, she came in with the second group which included returners. Once again, she showed a smooth, aggressive game. Sanchez was active in every aspect of the game. She ended the night with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting. She added two rebounds and a steal.
“I knew she had a chance to be really good for us,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “Gisela—her size, her length, the spark she brings—she brings a lot of defensive tenacity and grit. I like that.”
In all, the Wildcats had five players in double digits and two more with at least eight points. Barnes has said that she wants to have at least five players in double figures to help make up for the lost production of Aari McDonald. While the competition is not what it will be once the season starts, seven different players have gotten near to or exceeded that mark so far.
The team is no longer reliant on a single player to do the bulk of their scoring. A problem that went hand-in-hand with the lack of balanced scoring the last few years was the inability to shoot the ball. That is also no longer an issue, at least at this point.
For the second straight game, Arizona had at least five players hit a 3-point shot. Against Arizona Christian, they shot 48.4 percent as a team from outside, up from 33.3 percent in their first exhibition. The group was 15-for-31 from distance against ACU.
In her two games as a Wildcat, Taylor Chavez has hit 7 of 11 outside shots. Conner has hit 8 of 14.
“I thought we did a really good job shooting the three,” Barnes said. “Almost 50 percent. This is like polar opposite than what I’m used to.”
Perhaps more encouraging was the fact that starting point guard Shaina Pellington seemed to relax in the second game. Against Eastern New Mexico, Pellington hit only two of her nine shots. Both she and Barnes chalked it up at least partially to nerves. If that was the cause, her nerves have calmed. Pellington went three for seven in her second game.
Pellington also ran the team effectively, dishing out four assists for the second straight contest. She trailed only Helena Pueyo, who had six.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that need to be fixed.
“We have a lot of work defensively,” Barnes said. “Have a lot of fouls. A lot of fouls at the very end of the shot clock with one second left, three seconds left. Those are just fouls and mental mistakes we can’t make. But we have a lot of good young talent, and I think that we have a chance to be good. We have a lot of work.”
The Wildcats need to work quickly because now things get real. They open the regular season against Cal State Northridge on Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 5 p.m. MST in a doubleheader with Arizona men’s basketball. The game after that will be against No. 6 Louisville.