Arizona women’s basketball comes back home after playing its last three games on the road. The Wildcats’ schedule through the first eight games of conference play was slightly tilted towards road games with five being away from McKale Center.
The first game of the weekend will be the ninth game of Pac-12 play, marking the halfway point of the league season. What’s happening with the Wildcats as they navigate the backstretch of the season?
Helena Pueyo gets defensive
Barnes always says that it’s possible to make a great defender. Improving her shot is a different issue altogether.
“It’s easier to teach defense than offense,” Barnes said after the Utah game. “So, I can’t make a player who cannot shoot be this great shooter, but I can make a player who’s a great shooter become a better defender by teaching certain things. ‘Hey, she’s really fast, give her another step.’ But I can’t, say, improve and change your shot to become a shooter. So, I think it’s better to teach defense than offense.”
One example of taking a great shooter and turning her into a great defender is Pueyo, who is one of the 15 players named to the Naismith Women’s College Defensive Player of the Year watch list earlier in the week. While Barnes thinks the likelihood that Pueyo actually wins is small, she knows that her versatile sixth player has already taken enormous steps on that end of the court.
“Typically, those awards go to who has the most steals in the country,” Barnes said. “I think it’s just a numbers thing, which usually the person with the most steals is…led to by someone else defensively. But I think for her to receive the recognition…to be one of 15 in the country is phenomenal. And why it’s more special for Helena and for me is Helena could not spell defense. Helena was a bad defensive player. I remember watching Helena. She stood. Did not get into the stance. And I remember saying to Salvo, ‘There is no way she’s going to be able to play defense within our system.’ But then watching her evolve, I mean, think about the years. Two years ago was probably when it really started. Remember, she didn’t get these deflections the first couple of years. She…was hidden [on defense]. And to see her now getting deflections, making huge key plays like on-the-ball, out-of-bounds in games. To see the evolution of her defense, it makes us proud as coaches and just proud of her. And I don’t think she ever would have thought she would get this.”
How likely is it that Pueyo returns to Arizona for her fifth year?
Even if Pueyo doesn’t win the award this season, she could try for it again next year. While she is approaching the end of her senior season at Arizona, that doesn’t mean she has to go.
The guard still has the extra year granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic. She just has to decide if she wants to spend one more year in Tucson or return to Spain and be closer to family and old friends.
What are the chances that Pueyo comes back?
“I think it’s very likely,” Barnes said. “I think I think it is extremely likely if we can get her a couple NIL deals.”
Barnes said that she knows the market in Europe for a European professional player of Pueyo’s talent. It is possible to get NIL deals, even for international players, that rival that amount. However, there are some limitations that make it more complicated.
Barnes said that she doesn’t fully understand all of the rules, but she knows that international players are not allowed to work for NIL money. The entity that provides the money has to just give it to the player with no expectations. She said that it makes it difficult to get that kind of commitment.
Also, even if Pueyo were to make more money playing at Arizona, she would still be thousands of miles from home for the fifth straight year. It might be worth it for her to go back home and play in front of family and old friends.
“I really, really hope that she comes back here next year,” Barnes said. “She’s a really good player and she’s just getting better and better.”
Two more #BurgerGirls
Pueyo’s recognition by the Naismith committee was just one piece of evidence that Arizona has improved on the national stage. For a Wildcat bench player to be voted to the list by a national committee says that people are taking notice. On the same day, there was another piece of news that indicated the same thing.
Arizona signees Breya Cunningham and Jada Williams were named to the McDonald’s All-American game. It was the second straight year that the Wildcats had two players named to the team, with Maya Nnaji and Paris Clark taking the honors last year. That makes five McDonald’s All-Americans to sign with the Wildcats since Cate Reese became the first in 2018.
It might have been more, too. Barnes believes that Kailyn Gilbert was on the cusp of selection last year. This year, Montaya Dew was No. 8 in the ESPN HoopGurlz rankings. She decided that she would enroll early and forego the honors that typically come during the final year in high school.
What does it mean to have young women with that kind of talent repeatedly put their trust in a seventh-year head coach like Barnes?
“I think it means a lot because…we weren’t even in the conversation…when I first got here for the top 100 kids,” Barnes said. “And so, to now be on multiple lists—we’re pretty much on every top kid’s final 10 or 20 list—and then just to be in the hunt against Connecticut, Notre Dame, Louisville, South Carolina…I think it does say a lot. And I think there’s so many more factors now because of NIL stuff, but just to get these caliber kids because what it does, it helps you sustain success.”
What to expect from Washington on Friday evening
The Huskies have been down for several years, but second-year head coach Tina Langley has started turning the program around. She brought some players with her from Rice when she was hired last year, and she just signed her second straight top-25 class according to HoopGurlz. She also got hometown player Dalayah Daniels to transfer back to Seattle from conference rival California.
The improvements haven’t translated into as many wins as UW might like, but the Huskies are putting a scare into Top 25 teams on a regular basis. They have single-digit losses to Colorado, Utah, Oregon and UCLA. All four of those teams have been ranked at some point in the season with Utah and UCLA spending considerable time in the Top 10.
“Washington is much better than their record,” Barnes said. “Very hard to guard. They run Princeton and chin, and it’s a lot of read-react. They don’t take quick shots. They go deep into their shot clock. And I think it’s gonna be a hard game. And I think these are games that we need to win at home and they’re not going to be easy. And winning these two at home would be huge. I think the games that Washington has lost—I mean, they were up on UCLA, controlling the game until the third quarter. And they’re good. I think it’s just new. I think their defense is better. I think their stuff is hard to guard and so it’s not a group we take lightly.”
Washington Huskies (10-8, 2-6 Pac-12) @ No. 19 Arizona Wildcats (15-4, 5-3 Pac-12)
When: Friday, Jan. 27, 2023 at 7 p.m. MST
Where: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
TV: Pac-12 Arizona
Streaming: Streaming is available via the Pac-12 Now app or online. Both options require a subscription via a TV provider. Streaming is also available with a subscription to a TV package that includes the Pac-12 Network via Sling, Fubo, or Vidgo.
Radio: Listen to the call by Derrick Palmer online on The Varsity Network or on the radio at KTUC 1400 AM.
Stats: Arizona Live Stats
Rankings and standings: Arizona is tied with USC for fifth in the Pac-12 standings at 5-3. Washington is 10th at 2-6.
Projections: Her Hoop Stats projects that Arizona will win no matter where this game is played. In McKale Center, the stats site assigns the Wildcats an 89.6 win probability with a projected margin of victory of 14.3. The point total is 124.3.