The Arizona Wildcats are now at full strength with 10 players. The next step is cleaning up some of the stumbling blocks that could hurt them against top competition. Turnovers and fouls were chief among those in the Wildcats’ 90-67 win over Memphis at the Battle4Atlantis tournament in Nassau, Bahamas.
The Wildcats had four players in double-figure scoring, but everyone on the team had at least one turnover. It’s been a problem early in the season. The Wildcats came into the game averaging 19 turnovers, a jump of 6.5 turnovers per game over last season. They exceeded that number with 23 against the Tigers. It’s the nature of going from an experienced team with multiple fifth-year players to a younger team that’s still getting to know each other.
“We are really young team, not to make an excuse, and we have to get used to each other,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “Today is our first game with actually having all 10 players. And we haven’t practiced a lot of times with the whole team. So now we finally have a whole team. We’ve had two practices under our belt, so I think just that cohesiveness and chemistry it takes time to build and we have seven new players and a young team. So we’re just gonna continue to go back to the basics on offense and defense. And we have to improve, but it’s not one person. It’s like a little bit of everybody. So you know, we’re gonna get a lot better a little bit of everybody and stop turning it over. But that’s something that’s easily fixable. Some things aren’t, but that is. And we’re gonna fix it. I don’t know when, but hopefully sooner than later.”
It was an area of emphasis for the Tigers going into the game simply because of personnel and size mismatches. On the positive side for the Wildcats, they used their own defensive pressure to turn the Tigers over almost as many times.
“I felt like when we would pressure 94 feet, I think that’s where we had the most success,” said Memphis head coach Alex Simmons. “Again, we knew that they were going to try to go inside and get a lot of paint points and we wanted to force them to play in the full court and play less time in the half court. So I thought we did a good job of forcing turnovers...At the same time, we also had 22 turnovers.”
Arizona turned those 22 turnovers into 28 points. They also used that size advantage to run up the score in the paint. The Wildcats had a 48-28 advantage in points inside. Three of their five frontcourt players scored in double figures, led by Esmery Martinez and her double-double.
“We’re asking a lot of her,” Barnes said. “Asking her to play the 2, 3, 4, 5. So it’s a lot of different combinations, a lot of sets, and she’s really absorbed it all. She’s doing a really good job playing at a very, very high level.”
Martinez ended the day with 19 points and 11 rebounds. She added two assists and four steals.
Maya Nnaji, Sali Kourouma, and Kailyn Gilbert joined Martinez in double figures. Nnaji stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block, and 3 steals. Kourouma contributed 14 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 steal. Gilbert had 13 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists.
“Most teams that play us are undersized, so I just want to do whatever I can to help my teammates, like put them in the best position so that we can all win,” Nnaji said. “Whether that’s giving assists or like throwing it into Breya [Cunningham] or Isis [Beh] or whoever on the block or just finding my teammates in transition, crashing the boards, whatever it is, I want to be able to do that to help the team. And so, I think knowing that they’re undersized we could just pound the ball inside whether that’s driving or passing to the post or posting up hard or running the floor or whatever that is, I just want to do that.”
Blakely played 15 minutes in her first game as a Wildcat. Most of her impact was felt on the defensive end where she had three steals.
Blakely also had some obvious things to clean up like her four fouls and three turnovers. Those can at least partly be attributed to her style of play, but Barnes and the coaching staff are working to help her get that under control.
“When you’re that fast—which I’ve never been that fast, so I don’t really understand that feeling—but you have to slow down sometimes,” Barnes said. “And I think that’s what she has to learn because when you go so fast, I think it leads to turnovers.”
With its full team finally together, Arizona now moves on to face its first ranked team of the season. Ole Miss, which is ranked 23rd in the AP poll, defeated Howard 67-54 in the first game of the day.
“We’re here as a business trip, but also to have fun,” Barnes said. “So, we’re going to celebrate this game really quickly, then turn around and get ready for Ole Miss tomorrow.”