It’s a weekend of uncertainty for some and looking to the future for others. Arizona women’s basketball will say goodbye to three fifth-year seniors, including two players who helped them get within a point of a national title. Another player who helped that 2020-21 team advance to the final game is weighing her choices and one more with eligibility still left is considering whether to return for her fifth season of college basketball.
It will be the final regular season game in McKale Center for Cate Reese, Shaina Pellington, and Jade Loville. While the Wildcats could still move into the top 16 seeds for the NCAA Tournament and host opening round games, there’s quite a climb to get there. So, five-year starter Reese, four-year Wildcat and two-year starter Pellington, and one-year starter Loville could all be playing their final game in front of the Pac-12 leading crowd in McKale Center.
It could also be the final regular season home game for Esmery Martinez and four-year Wildcat Helena Pueyo. Both are weighing their professional options and have not yet decided on what they will do next season. For head coach Adia Barnes, Pueyo is one of her “top recruits” right now.
Senior Lauren Fields is expected back.
Four of those who either are guaranteed to leave or may do so will be honored against Colorado on Sunday. Reese, Pellington, Loville, and Pueyo will all walk. Martinez will not.
The game against the No. 21 Buffaloes tips off at 12 p.m. MST. It will be aired on the Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Arizona.
Career highlights: Reese was the first female McDonald’s All-American to commit to Arizona. She has started for five years, often having to play as an undersized five instead of a more natural four. Reese has averaged double digits all five years of her career and at least six rebounds per game in four of her five seasons. She was critical to helping Arizona win the WNIT title her freshman season and reach the NCAA title game her junior year. With three regular season games and the postseason to go, she has averaged 12.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 0.9 steals per game in 26.8 minutes over her career. She is second on the Arizona career total rebounding list, albeit in more games than most on the list due to the extra year granted due to the pandemic.
Awards: Reese made the 2018-19 Pac-12 All-Freshman team. She led all freshmen in scoring and was narrowly in second place in rebounds after the regular season. After the postseason, she led both categories for freshmen, but the conference Freshman of the Year went to Utah’s Dre’Una Edwards, who promptly transferred to Kentucky and has since moved on to Baylor. In 2019-20, Reese was a Katrina McClain Award finalist, and she earned honorable mention Associated Press All-American in 2021-22. She has been All-Pac-12 for the past three seasons.
Reese says: “I feel like it went by so fast. I mean when you look at it day by day, it goes by slow, but I feel like I was a freshman last year. So, I mean looking back, I’m super proud of everything that we’ve been able to accomplish as a program. I think it’s exactly why I came here and it’s funny because I was thinking about senior night yesterday. I literally started tearing up. It’s just so sad and I feel like my time is up here, and I think it’s just been…great. It’s been a great five years.”
Barnes says: “Cate Reese came here when we didn’t…have a great program. There was no proof that we were going to be good, and she took a leap of faith and a chance on us…She’s going to have started here for five years, and that’s pretty remarkable. And then just to start and then to be a star player just as we climbed. Can’t say enough about her as a person, as a player, what she represents off the court. Just her resiliency, how she’s improved and just so many things. Just proud that she could be a part of that group like the Sam Thomases and the Aaris that have kind of lifted this program to the next level…And staying here the whole time has been great. And every college career is hard. And I think the decision to go back home or go back to Texas or stay here for a fifth year, I think it’s a lot and you don’t see that loyalty, nowadays especially. So, I’m just happy that she’s been that loyal player and we’ve had a great relationship and I’m just happy she stuck it out this long. She definitely left her legacy.”
What’s next: Reese has been working on her master’s degree in entrepreneurship at the Eller College of Management. She said her immediate future is focused on professional basketball, though.
Career highlights: Pellington got her start in college playing for the Oklahoma Sooners. After her sophomore year, she was looking for something else. Under the old NCAA rules, she sat out after transferring to Arizona. Both Barnes and Pellington say that having that time to develop and play against Aari McDonald in practice every day was good for her.
Her first season on the court, she initially was in the starting lineup, but soon gave way to Bendu Yeaney. She had her best game of that season off the bench in the national title game. After McDonald departed for the WNBA, Pellington stepped into the starting point guard role and has been there for almost every game since.
Pellington has led the Wildcats in scoring for long stretches this season and went off for a career high of 35 points in the best game of her college career to defeat No. 4 Utah on Friday. With three regular season games to go in her sixth year in college and third year on the court for UA, she has averaged 10.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals in 22.3 minutes per game.
This year, she is having her best season in cardinal and navy with 13.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.9 steals in 27.8 minutes per game. She accounts for a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio and is shooting 54.9 percent from the field.
Awards: Pellington was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year at Oklahoma in 2017-18.
Pellington says: “I came from—obviously transferred from—Oklahoma after my sophomore season was done. I sat out for a year which had helped me learn and realize a lot about myself as a person. I think I’ve grown in a lot of areas—maturity and just overall as a better woman, I feel like. I owe that to Arizona. I learned a lot about myself, and I feel like I grew a lot here as a person and a basketball player.”
Barnes says: “You know, she was a lot sometimes in the first few years, but I think we can laugh about it now and she’s matured so much…She’s kind of come into her own, and the stuff that we harped on the first couple of years, you’re finally seeing the improvement of that. We talked about her shooting, her turning the ball over, and she takes care of ball now. She’s hitting jump shots. She has more confidence. She’s making free throws now. So, I’m happy to see that she’s improved in areas because as a coach, you’re happy. And then off the court, she’s improved. Shaina’s really smart and when she applies herself, she can do anything. And I think that her aspirations are to go pro, so she’s gonna leave here with a degree and she’s gonna go pro and I think she’s going to have a great career.”
What’s next: As Barnes mentioned, Pellington has pro aspirations. She has also been part of the Canadian national team for years, getting to play in the Tokyo Olympics for her country in the delayed 2020 Olympics. Her degree will be in general studies in sports and society with a minor in criminology. She said for now she’s not thinking about what she can do with her degree because she’s focused on her basketball present and future, but she hopes to stay in the sports world even after her playing career.
Career highlights: Loville transferred to Arizona for her final year after spending three seasons at Boise State and one at Arizona State. She was second in the Pac-12 with 16.6 points per game in her single year in Tempe, and has started almost every game of her single year at Arizona. She averages 11.0 points per game for Arizona to be one of four players averaging double figures.
Awards: Loville was first team All-Mountain-West her final season at Boise State and All-Pac-12 last year at ASU.
Loville says: “It’s been a blessing just to play on this home court in front of all these fans that—they support us through the good, the bad, the ugly, everything. So, I’m so fortunate to have joined this team for my last season, and like Cate said, we want to go out with a bang.”
Barnes says: “Jade works like a pro. If you go into the gym early, you will see Jade working. She’s not just there shooting or shooting half-court shots or standing and talking holding a ball. She’s working. She’s working on stuff that she needs to apply, like she’s working on down screens. She’s sweating. She takes care of her body. She rests. She does things like a pro, and I think that’s a compliment. When I’ve been talking to pro scouts and stuff in gyms that are friends of mine, I talked about that. Because I think that’s really important. I think everybody doesn’t have that. So, I wish we would have had her for longer. I think she would have had a great career here, but she’s been good to have for this year.”
What’s next: Both Loville and Barnes have been clear that her job this season is to help Arizona while improving her game to be a professional.
Career highlights: Pueyo came to Arizona as a shooter, but she’s become much more. She leads the Pac-12 in assist-to-turnover ratio with 2.7. She is second in the league with 2.3 steals per game, trailing Colorado’s Jaylyn Sherrod’s 2.4. She plays everything from the one to the four for Arizona, which has had to go small a lot this season due to the lack of bigs.
Over almost four seasons with the Wildcats, Pueyo averages 4.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.7 steals primarily off the bench. She has only started 10 games in her career but averages 22.6 minutes per game.
Awards: She was honorable mention Pac-12 All-Freshman in 2019-20 and honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2021-22. This season, she is in the running for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award. She is Arizona’s team captain this season.
Pueyo says: “I think the images [from my time at Arizona] are McKale, in general. Just all the games here. The fans are really fun. Because when I play in Spain, there are like 10 people and then you jump in here and it’s like thousands. So, I think that’s one of the really special things for me. Then, I mean, Adia and Salvo [Coppa] and all the coaches, my teammates, so basically, everything from here.”
Barnes says: “When I first went to Spain to recruit Helena, she did not say one word. You could be with her for like a two-hour lunch, and she would nod her head, maybe say thank you maybe once. She did not talk… And then I look at her now, she is so different…Now, she’s like life of the team, the jokester. And just to watch her come out of her shell, that’s been amazing to watch. Helena’s a great player. I know when I first recruited her, I was like, she’s skilled offensively, but I was sitting there like, defensively it’s gonna be a struggle, but…now she’s… on the defensive player of the year watch list. I mean, that’s a huge change and shift and she’s improved. Now, just getting her to stay more aggressive, which I’d love. We’ve always talked about that. She’s capable of doing that. She’s gonna be a good pro. I hope it’s after one more year from now. I hope she comes back to Arizona. I’m trying. She’s one of my top recruits.”
What’s next: Pueyo is looking at what kind of money she might be offered if she turned pro in Europe. Since she has a Spanish passport, she can play as a local player anywhere in the European Union. If she doesn’t get what she wants financially, returning to Arizona for her fifth season is also a possibility.