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Cate Reese’s comeback helps secure Arizona women’s basketball’s NCAA Tournament host bid

How much does it improve their chances to advance?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 18 Women’s - Arizona at Washington Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There were a lot of things that could have been held against Arizona women’s basketball when it came time to decide the top 16 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. The losses against ASU, Washington State, and UCLA were chief among them. The team had dropped to No. 18 in NET at the end of the Pac-12 Tournament after spending most of the season in or just outside the top 10.

One positive played in their favor, though. The return of Cate Reese from a dislocated shoulder suffered in the fourth quarter of the Feb. 20 game in Pullman might have been the deciding factor that kept the Wildcats at home.

“We talked about availability of players,” said Nina King, the chair of the women’s selection committee. “And so whether...COVID impacts or injuries, we talked about teams and the kind of results, whether they had all of their players, they were healthy or not, or when the players are anticipated to come back. And we rely on the information that teams provide us through their conferences and when players are expected back and available. And it’s one of the 14 criteria that we talked about. So, yes, that did come up when we discussed Arizona.”

Reese had started shooting before the Pac-12 Tournament, but Arizona head coach Adia Barnes did not want to risk playing her.

“It wouldn’t be constructive,” Barnes said after the Wildcats lost to Colorado in the quarterfinals. “It wouldn’t be productive for the tournament. So honestly, the NCAA Tournament’s more important than the Pac-12 Tournament.”

The senior forward led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding this season. Her 14.6 points per game were ninth in the Pac-12. She raised that average to 15.7 PPG during conference play, climbing to sixth in the league. On the boards, she grabbed 6.2 RPG, which was good for 12th in the Pac-12. That number went up slightly in conference play, increasing to 6.4 RPG and placing her 10th in the league.

Barnes said that Reese is back at full speed in practice. She will wear a brace on her shoulder during games, but even the psychological effect of having her in uniform is important.

“We’re definitely better,” Barnes said. “And even if we are (just better) psychologically, that’s a big part of the game, too. So just having her back and her presence and her aggressiveness. She looked great all week. Scrimmaged all week, contact all week. She’s looking good. Obviously the first couple of days her wind was a little down because she was working out but she wasn’t in our scrimmages. And then today she was in it the whole time. She’s feeling good. So you know we need her and we’re a lot better with her. And we all know that and we all were waiting for her to come back. So I really like our chances within the game a lot better when she’s back.”