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Arizona women’s basketball notebook: On scheduling and rescheduling, turnovers, the Final Four squad overseas and more

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 14 Women’s - San Diego at Arizona Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats last took the court on Nov. 20 when they faced South Dakota in the Bahamas. Twelve days later, they will finally return to the court to face UNLV, which is receiving votes in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll. A lot has happened in the Wildcat women’s basketball universe during that time. From trying to address the errors of youth on this year’s team to keeping up with the outstanding performances overseas from Wildcat alumnae, head coach Adia Barnes and her players have been busy.

On scheduling and rescheduling

Saturday’s game at the Thomas & Mack Center was supposed to tip off at 3 p.m. MST. Since it’s a short, direct flight from Tucson to Las Vegas, Arizona planned to save some money and fly commercial. Then came the news that UNLV would play in the Mountain West football championship game at 1 p.m. MST on the same day.

Although the football game is played at Allegiant Stadium, UNLV did not want the women’s basketball game to overlap with the football game a few miles away. The Rebels asked Barnes to push the game back to 6 p.m. MST. That meant that the commercial flight Arizona planned to take was no longer an option. As a result, UNLV will pay for the charter to get UA to the game.

On turnovers

Turnovers have been one of the biggest challenges for Arizona in the early going. It’s easy to chalk those up to youth, but it’s not just the young players who are struggling with those errors. The underlying cause is related, though. Inexperience, both in the college game and with each other, may be as responsible as “youth.”

“We all have turnover problems,” Barnes said. “We’re the turnover team right now.”

It’s not difficult to see where youth would come into play. Arizona starts a freshman and two sophomores. Two of its three backup guards are freshmen. Inexperience with each other and the system is an even bigger issue. The only player who entered the season with more than one year’s experience at Arizona is fifth-year guard Helena Pueyo.

Barnes believes the turnover issues are fixable though basic development and teaching.

“We have to work a lot on fundamentals,” she said. “We’re young and we are turning the ball over, and a lot of those, they’re not live ball turnovers. A lot of them are charges or travels, stuff like that, that we can control. So that just tells me fundamentally we have to get a little bit more sound.”

The extended layoff between games gave the team time to work on those fundamentals and some decision-making.

“We’re gonna look different as far as turning the ball over,” Barnes said. “I think just understanding you don’t always have to have that million dollar pass...I think teaching young players that’s a really hard pass. You may make it in practice, you may thread the needle sometimes, but it’s better to make the safe, fundamental pass, I think. And so, if everybody cuts those down by one, like we’re half of what we have now. We just have never really had so many turnovers. And then the traveling and the lack of jump stopping and charging and stuff like that, those are things that you just have to teach individually for people to jumpstop, and that’s what we do. So that tells me we needed more reps.”

On foul trouble

Foul trouble is another issue that has cropped up. It may be even more detrimental to Arizona because of the limited bench. It has hit Arizona’s bigs especially hard with Breya Cunningham and Isis Beh being the primary targets of whistles. Barnes wants to see a better awareness of time, score, and flow of the game.

“There’s a time to be really aggressive,” Barnes said. “There’s a place on the floor, but then there’s certain zones for where you need to be a little bit more contained. And I think the understanding of okay, we’ve played really good defense for 23 seconds. Last seven seconds, you don’twant to go for a reach. And Skylar (Jones), Jada (Williams), Breya, they don’t understand that.”

It’s on both the coaches and the more veteran players to help with that, and it’s not just a matter of teaching during practice.

“I don’t think sometimes when you’re young and even looking at there’s seven seconds left,” Barnes said. “So I’m teaching them like, let’s communicate about that. Let’s know so we’re all on the same page. And just constant feedback in film to show this is when you don’t want to go for this steal. Yeah, earlier you can, but this is a time you don’t. Or we are one away from the bonus. You don’t want to put the other team in the bonus. We did that early on the road a lot. So a lot of that is just young mistakes and experience. And I think as upperclassmen they have to over communicate that stuff and say, Hey, we have three fouls, let’s be smarter. But as coaches we’re talking about, like hey, this is the time to contain a little bit more because of where we are in our fouls.”

While she recognizes that some younger players are having difficulties, she also knows that they are not the only ones. Because they are relatively new to the program, even some of the vets still have things to learn.

“Teaching Esmery (Martinez) don’t go for that steal at the top of the key when we just went a couple possessions without scoring,” Barnes said. “We need to be solid defensively.”

On the Final Four squad overseas

A trio of players from the 2021 Final Four team are having great seasons overseas and seem to be enjoying themselves. For Cate Reese and Trinity Baptiste, that’s not a big surprise. Both have expressed their positive feelings about international basketball. For Aari McDonald, it’s something else. After being very unhappy during her first attempt on the international circuit, she’s having a much better time of things in her second go-round.

Reese is in the second leg of her professional career. After playing in Australia’s second-level league over the summer, she jumped to Belgium’s top-level league for the winter. Both she and her team are sitting pretty.

Reese is the starting center for Kangoeroes Basket Mechelen. She averages 22.3 points on 61.2 percent 2-point shooting in domestic play. She’s also hitting 66.7 percent of her 3-point shots and 70.6 percent of her free throws. On top of that, she has 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game. Those numbers have helped her team to a 7-0 record in Belgium’s top league.

In EuroCup, Kangoeroes are in second in Group E with a 4-2 record. They are tied with Besiktas as far as records, but the Turkish team takes the top spot due to point differential.

Reese has scored 17.5 ppg in her six EuroCup games. She is shooting 66.2 percent from inside the arc but just 22.2 percent from the 3-point line. She has 7.7 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.3 bpg, and 0.8 spg.

Baptiste plays for Bursa Uludag Basketbal in the KBSL, also known as the Turkish Women’s Super League. She scores 20.3 ppg in league games as the team’s starting small forward. She’s hitting 50.7 percent of her shots from inside the arc and 28.6 percent of her 3-point shots. She adds 8.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, and 1.1 spg.

In EuroCup competition, Baptiste scores 17.5 ppg on 51.3 2-point shooting and 37.5 3-point shooting. She also contributes 8.0 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.2 bpg, and 1.3 spg.

Bursa is sitting 12th in the KBSL with a 4-7 record. The team is third in Group J of EuroCup at 3-3.

The big news has been McDonald’s happiness playing for the Perth Lynx of the WNBL. She came back to the U.S. after just a few days in Europe following her rookie season in the WNBA, but she shows no signs of slowing down in Western Australia.

McDonald leads the WNBL in scoring with 20.0 ppg while her team is in fourth after dropping its last two games. She’s also dishing 7.0 assists in five starts this year. That’s third in the league. She’s fourth with 2.2 steals per game. She has hit 6.4 shots per game from inside the arc, which places her second. She’s tied for second with an 81.8 percent success rate from the free throw line.

She’s also enjoying her life.

“Her husband said he wanted to move there,” Barnes said. “And I was like, hold on. I don’t know about that. You need to come back here.”