Low rebounding numbers have been a criticism of Arizona women’s basketball for years. If their exhibition game against West Texas A&M is any indication, that criticism can go by the wayside. The Wildcats showed a new aptitude for rebounding as they defeated West Texas A&M 86-63 on Thursday evening.
Arizona was in the eighth percentile in total rebounding and the 30th percentile in offensive rebounding last season according to stats service Her Hoop Stats. Even in their opening exhibition of 2021-22 against Eastern New Mexico, the Wildcats secured just 14 offensive rebounds and 30 total rebounds. This year, they had 11 offensive rebounds and 25 total rebounds by halftime, ending with 46 total rebounds, half of which were on the offensive end.
Much of that can be credited to West Virginia transfer Esmery Martinez. Both head coach Adia Barnes and special assistant to the head coach Bett Shelby raved about the rebounding ability of Martinez over the summer. It was apparent why.
Martinez never gave up on a rebound. She seemed to know where they are going to go. If she couldn’t secure the board, she tried to tap it to a teammate. It resulted in 12 rebounds, six on offense and six on defense. Martinez also had six points on 3-7 shooting, three assists, a block, and three steals for a strong all-around game.
Fifth-year senior Cate Reese was also strong on the boards. She finished the night with six rebounds, including three on the offensive end. Reese also had two blocks and a steal.
“Esmery is a really big rebounder for us,” Reese said. “I mean, if you look at her stats from last year, she averaged like a double-double so she’s a huge addition for us. I think we have guards—I mean Jade flies in there, she gets rebounds—so I think we’re definitely hitting the offensive boards a lot harder than we used to in previous years. And then on top of that, boxing out a little bit better I think today than we have in the past.”
The Wildcats were also extremely efficient on offense inside the arc. Jade Loville led the Wildcats with 20 points on 10-18 shooting. Reese was not far behind. She started the offense for the Wildcats, hitting a three for the first points of the season, and ended with 13 points on 6-13 shooting.
Arizona also got double-digit points from freshmen Kailyn Gilbert (10) and Paris Clark (11). Gilbert got hers by hitting five of 12 shots, while Clark’s points came on 4-7 shooting.
Shaina Pellington did her job setting up teammates and playing defense but went 2-12 from the field. She ended with seven points, but it was her six assists and only one turnover that was more impressive. She also had four steals.
“I don’t think 12 shots is too much for Shaina,” Barnes said. “I just think 2-for-12 is not good for Shaina. Shaina is too good to go 2-for-12, but you have those nights. But, then, if you do that, then it’s good [that] she did other things. So that’s what I love. In the past, she wouldn’t have. She was 3-for-4 from the free-throw line. That was amazing. And then she had three rebounds. She had six assists and one turnover. So I liked that. In the past, she would have not had that. She would kind of stop. So I love...her maturity.”
The one aspect of the offense that was not clicking for the Wildcats was three-point shooting. They started the game hot from outside, going 3-for-7 in the first quarter. They would only hit one more of the 13 three-point shots they took in quarters two through four.
But the biggest problem was defense, especially in the final period.
“Fourth quarter, awful,” Barnes said. “We got outscored by two. We allowed 60 percent from two and 67 percent from the three...in the fourth quarter. That’s not characteristic of us. And I don’t think in an exhibition game in my career we’ve allowed 45 percent from two and 47 percent from three—in my career—so we have a lot of work to do. Was not good defense at all.”
Reese and Loville both pointed to the team failing to play together on defense.
“Coach Adia, she asks a lot of us on defense and I think we just weren’t as disciplined,” Reese said. “I think our transition defense needs to be a lot better and our help side is not there.”
That will be the focus in the coming days for the Wildcats.
“We have seven new players,” Barnes said. “Four freshmen who have never learned defensive rotations and it’s all new, and they’re trying, and they want to be good. So I’m happy for that. And then we have three transfers, who came from all different styles and different coaching. So that’s normal. That’s over half of your team. That’s seven out of 12. So I do have to give that some grace and some understanding and some patience.”