Arizona women’s basketball will host its final home game before setting out onto the road for the Thanksgiving tournament season next week. The final home tune-up against Long Beach State will feature an Arizona team still needing to work on two major areas: defense and sharing the ball.
The Wildcats did a better job of sharing the ball in their game against Loyola Marymount on Friday, but there were still some issues. Outside of Helena Pueyo and Shaina Pellington, Arizona’s primary guard rotation has not been great at finding teammates in the early going. One-on-one basketball and shots early in the shot clock are the standard far too often.
Pellington averages four assists per game in 22.7 minutes. It’s a strong showing for Arizona’s starting point guard, who is dishing out those four assists against just 0.7 turnovers per contest—a total of just two turnovers in three games. She ranks in the 95th percentile in assists per game and the 88th percentile in turnovers per game in Division I women’s basketball according to stats service Her Hoop Stats.
Pueyo averages 2.3 APG (81st percentile) in 23.7 MPG while committing zero turnovers this season. That is a strong complement to Pellington, but the rest of the guard rotation has yet to follow suit. Other than those two, the best distributor on the roster has been forward Esmery Martinez with an identical 2.3 APG in 23.7 MPG.
It’s an area that head coach Adia Barnes recognizes needs improvement. She spoke about both the value of everyone touching the ball to keep them all engaged and the concern about shots early in the clock in her media availability this week.
“We’re emphasizing that a lot,” she said. “That’s an area that I think just not trying to do it on our own. Just understanding that we can get higher percentage shots later in the shot clock.”
Against the Lions, it was still a work in progress. Those who struggle with it continue to be the newer members of the team, both freshmen and transfer guards.
The results can be seen in the shot attempts per minute played by various members of the team. Currently, prolific scorer Jade Loville is getting 10 shots per game while playing 22 minutes while freshman guard Kailyn Gilbert is getting 8.3 shots per game while playing 17 minutes.
Gilbert is hitting a high percentage of her shots, but they are often in traffic and early in the shot clock. Against the teams that Arizona is playing now, those methods often work. The concern is that these games are meant to prepare the team for tougher competition down the road. Those mid-range jump shots in traffic are unlikely to be as easy to hit in Pac-12 play.
Gilbert mentioned this week that she knew she needed to get her teammates involved, but like others, she often fell back into old habits on Friday, especially in transition. It’s something Barnes knows comes with being young.
“The freshmen have never played like that because it’s high school,” Barnes said.
On the defensive side of the ball, Arizona started very slow against LMU. The Wildcats allowed the Lions to go 6-for-8 to open the game. The good news was that UA improved as the game wore on, but Barnes wants to see that from the beginning. That, too, is something she feels will improve as the season wears on.
“I was meeting with the staff and I was talking about in November [of the 2020-21 season] when we went to the championship, we were awful in November,” Barnes said. “I looked at some film from [USC]. We were atrocious. We played SC, couldn’t have a rotation. So that made me feel better because we’re way further along now than we were back then and we went to the Final Four.”
The Beach is the next opportunity to improve on the Wildcats’ path to getting where they want to be.
Long Beach State (1-1, 0-0 Big West) @ No. 18 Arizona (3-0, 0-0 Pac-12)
When: Sunday, Nov. 20 at 2 p.m. MST
Where: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
Broadcast: Arizona Live Stream
Radio: The radio broadcast can be accessed online via The Varsity Network.
Stats: Arizona Live Stats
Ratings and rankings: Her Hoop Stats has Arizona rated No. 12 overall. The stats service has the Wildcats at No. 11 on offense and No. 13 on defense. The Wildcats are ranked No. 18 by the AP voters and the WBCA voters.
LBSU is rated No. 214 overall by Her Hoop Stats. The Beach are No. 239 on offense and No. 194 on defense.
Odds: None of the online sportsbooks had odds for the game as of the morning of Nov. 20.