Playing freshmen has been a point of contention for the Arizona women’s basketball faithful for the past few years. When Arizona head coach Adia Barnes started getting players with four and five-star rankings did she play them enough to keep them happy and develop them? Did they produce enough to merit being on the floor once the team became a Top 25 program? Here’s a look at how the top 10 of Barnes’ 30 freshmen faired at Arizona as far as playing time.
It shouldn’t be a big surprise that the freshmen who got the most playing time were the ones who came in during Barnes’ first few seasons. She was rebuilding a program that had done little in almost 15 years. Recruiting was down. She needed players to fill gaps, and she relied heavily on freshmen.
Sam Thomas (2017-18)
The top four freshmen in minutes per game all played for Barnes during her first three seasons at Arizona. Sam Thomas leads that list. As Barnes’ first Top 100 recruit and a stalwart for five seasons, that is expected.
Thomas averaged 36.3 minutes per game in her rookie campaign, the year when Arizona won just six games. It was the only season when she scored in double digits, putting up 10.2 points per game. She also had her best rebounding year that season with 7.0 per game. The team would grow after that with Aari McDonald becoming eligible to play the following season in her redshirt sophomore year. Thomas was the turning point, though.
Lucia Alonso (2016-17)
Just behind Thomas is Lucia Alonso, who played 29.6 minutes per game during Barnes’ first year at the helm. Alonso was steady with the ball in her hands, falling in the 82nd percentile or better for assist-to-turnover ratio in all four years as a Wildcat. Her best season was as a junior when she was in the 98th percentile with 2.22 assists per turnover. She was also a strong shooter who averaged 40.1 percent from 3-point range over her career. That’s the best in Arizona program history.
However, Alonso began to lose time on the court as the seasons went by. She hit the peak for minutes played as a sophomore with 36.3 in 30 games started, but the emergence of McDonald and the influx of transfers at the guard position slowly pushed her out during her junior and senior seasons.
Cate Reese (2018-19)
Cate Reese, Arizona’s first female McDonald’s All-American, comes in behind Thomas and Alonso for minutes played during her freshman season at 25.5 mpg in 2018-19. She’s the highest-scoring freshman under Barnes with 11.8 ppg and trails only Thomas at rebounding with 6.8 rpg in her first season. Along with Thomas, she’s the only freshman to break 10 points per game in her rookie year since Barnes took over.
Marlee Kyles (2017-18)
Marlee Kyles came to Arizona the same season as Thomas. Her 24.4 minutes off the bench are the highest for a Wildcat freshman who didn’t start during her first year. It was also her only year of playing Division I basketball. With McDonald becoming eligible the next year, Kyles saw the writing on the wall. She transferred to Colorado State but never played for the Rams.
Jada Williams (2023-24)
Eight of the next 10 players on the list all started their Wildcat careers in the past three years. Number five is a freshman this season.
Jada Williams has averaged 22 minutes per game so far this year. With the limited number of guards on the roster, it’s likely that she will continue to see extensive time on the court despite starting the year with a 25 percent shooting percentage. Barnes has praised the other things that Williams does on the floor to help the team, and she has consistently been the first guard off the bench this season.
Helena Pueyo (2019-20)
Helena Pueyo played 21.6 minutes her freshman year, the sixth-most under Barnes. It was her best season as far as scoring and outside shooting. She put up 6.7 ppg that season and shot 38.3 percent from outside. She had a career high of 6.0 field goal attempts and 3.7 3-point attempts that year. While her assist numbers have increased every year and are now at a career-high 4.0 per game, her own shooting has dissipated. She’s attempting 5.0 field goals per game as a fifth-year senior but hitting just 34.4 percent. That number is largely due to a 26.3 percent success rate on her 3-point shots.
Breya Cunningham (2023-24)
Breya Cunningham is the second player in the top 10 who is a freshman this season. Her 19.5 minutes per game are at least partially hampered by a preseason injury that kept her from playing in the two exhibition games and being in the kind of playing shape she would like to be. Foul trouble has not helped, either. She has fouled out of two games and garnered four whistles in another.
Cunningham is still having a big impact. She’s second in the Pac-12 and 19th in the country with 2.43 blocks per game. Her 70 percent shooting is first among Pac-12 freshmen and fourth overall. She averages 8.7 ppg despite averaging just under half a game per outing. On a per-40-minute basis, she’s good for 17.8 ppg and 12.3 RPG.
Lauren Ware (2020-21)
Lauren Ware’s 16.2 mpg as a freshman come in eighth on the list since Barnes took over. Ware shot 43.2 percent from the field that year and averaged 3.8 rpg, but she often seemed to defer to Reese on offense. Her biggest contribution was likely on the defensive end where she averaged 1.1 bpg. That trails only Cunningham and Thomas among Barnes’ freshmen.
Skylar Jones (2023-24)
Arizona’s third 2023-24 freshman, Skylar Jones, is ninth on the list. She has averaged 15.4 mpg so far this season. Whether that continues with Courtney Blakely back is a question. Jones has displayed better shooting by far with a 33.3 percent field goal percentage compared to Blakely’s 16.7 percent. Both are being weighed down by poor outside shooting, but Blakely is only hitting 33.3 percent of her 2-point shots compared to 40 percent for Jones. Blakely does have a nominally better assist-to-turnover ratio at 0.75 compared to 0.70 for Jones. The older transfer also accounts for 1.3 steals compared to 0.5 for the freshman.
So far, though, Jones is still averaging slightly more minutes per game but she has only appeared in two of the three games while Blakely appeared in all three since her return. After not playing in the second game in the Bahamas, Barnes specifically mentioned that Jones did not hang her head. She also her best overall game the next day against South Dakota when she went 3 for 4 from the field for 8 points and added 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal in 15 minutes.
Paris Clark (2022-23)
Paris Clark comes in 10th on the list of freshmen under Barnes with 13.3 mpg in 24 games last season. She hit 36.4 percent of her shots from the floor and 45.8 from the free-throw line. She was good for 2.8 rpg from the guard position. On a per-40-minute basis, she projected to contribute 11.6 ppg and 8.3 rpg.
Clark transferred to Virginia in the off-season. She did not play until Nov. 19 in a game against then-No.25 Oklahoma. In the three games since, the Cavaliers are 1-2 but have faced two teams that were ranked at the time they played. Clark’s minutes have increased each game and she started the last one, but she’s currently averaging 16.2 mpg and scoring 8.0 ppg. Her overall shooting percentage has gone up a few ticks to 39.1 percent, but her 3-point shooting has dropped from 34.6 last year to 25 percent so far this year.