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What we learned about Arizona women’s basketball at the Paradise Jam

What are the Wildcats going to be working on during their almost two-week hiatus?

Sam Thomas plays defense against Rutgers
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

The cancellation of their Dec. 3 game at UC Riverside means that Arizona women’s basketball will have 12 days between games. It will give the team time to work on some things, but it also provides an opportunity for the seventh-ranked Wildcats to get rusty. What might they be working on? Their performance at last week’s Paradise Jam provided some clues.

Turnovers

The Wildcats were lucky to get by Vanderbilt after giving up 25 turnovers in their opening game. The Commodores turned those giveaways into 28 points in a game that was won by Arizona with a Shaina Pellington buzzerbeater.

The next day’s winning margin was a little bit larger, but the turnover issue was only marginally better. The Wildcats turned the ball over 17 times against DePaul in another close win, then gave it away 18 times in a blowout win over Rutgers.

“We’re turning the ball over a lot right now,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “And I don’t know why. It’s a lot of passes that just are lackadaisical or one-handed skip pass across the court. So those are things we can control. So definitely if you want to be a better offensive team, have to be more efficient with the ball and not turn it over so much.”

Most of the turnovers were due to lazy passes, as Barnes suggested, but the concern is that those lazy passes were primarily coming from Arizona’s primary rotation players, especially in the first two games.

Against Vanderbilt, 19 of the 25 turnovers were from the top eight players in Arizona’s rotation. Of those eight, only Sam Thomas and Taylor Chavez did not give the ball away. Helena Pueyo led the team with five turnovers and Bendu Yeaney was right behind with four.

Against DePaul, Thomas was once again the only one of the top eight who did not turn the ball over. Chavez, Cate Reese, and Ariyah Copeland led the team with three each. On Saturday against Rutgers, all 15 players on the roster got into the game and only Semaj Smith didn’t register a turnover, although no one had more than two that day.

Rebounds

Boxing out. It’s something Arizona has struggled to do for several years, and it’s still a problem this season. The concern is that the Wildcats have the height and strength inside that they have lacked in years past, yet the problem is still occuring.

Against DePaul, Reese pointed to some things she felt the team needed to do to fix the problem.

“Positioning sometimes, especially when they’re right under the basket, we can’t push them out,” Reese said. “We have to push them under the backboard. And I think that’s just something we’ve always had issues with is rebounding. So we definitely need to work on that especially when we play some bigger teams but that’s something we have to focus on in practice.”

How bad was the problem?

In the opening game against Vanderbilt, Arizona was outrebounded 33-22 overall and 11-4 on the offensive glass. This happened despite the fact that the Commodores did not start anyone over 5-foot-10 and the Wildcats have 6-foot-2 Reese and 6-foot-5 Lauren Ware in the post. The only starter under 5-foot-10 for Arizona is 5-foot-8 point guard Pellington.

The next day, it was DePaul winning the rebounding game 42-39 with an incredible 22 offensive boards to Arizona’s 10. In their defense, the Wildcats were dealing with 6-foot-1 Aneesha Morrow in this game. The Blue Demons’ freshman forward accounted for 16 of her team’s rebounds.

Only against Rutgers did Arizona win the rebounding battle, and even that was just a 31-28 edge. At least this time, the Wildcats were winners on the offensive end of the court with 12 offensive rebounds to the Scarlet Knights’ 7. The puzzler was that Rutgers had the tallest starting lineup that Arizona faced all week.

The last shot

At the end of the national title game in April, everyone knew that the shot to win the game would be taken by one player. If Arizona was going to win, Aari McDonald would win the game for them. On a positive note, the Wildcats have proven that the occasional Aari-watching they did the last few seasons at the end of games is something they can move beyond.

In the Louisville game, it was Yeaney who made the big shots down the stretch to secure the victory. Against Vanderbilt, it was Pellington. Against DePaul, different players stepped up in different quarters.

“Everybody’s gonna have to step up,” Yeaney said after the DePaul win. “It’s gonna be different people every time. Every game is somebody different. Last night, Shaina, she won the game for us. Today it took everybody and I think that having a deep team like this is it helps us because three games in three days is really hard.”