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Pac-12 coaches bestow postseason honors on 4 from Arizona women's basketball

Arizona All-Pac-12 honorees Cate Reese (25) and Shaina Pellington (1) embrace on senior day after defeating No. 21 Colorado. Feb. 21, 2023 in McKale Center
Photo by Rebecca Sasnett / Arizona Athletics

The last weekend of the regular season may not have been what the Arizona Wildcats hoped for, but it was a very successful season for four members of the team as far as the Pac-12 coaches were concerned. Fifth-year seniors Cate Reese and Shaina Pellington were joined by seniors Helena Pueyo and Esmery Martinez in receiving postseason honors from the 12 head coaches.

Reese was the only four-time member of the All-Pac-12 squad and the only member who has been on an all-conference team all five years of her career. She was All-Freshman her first season at Arizona.

It was Pellington’s first all-conference honor since she transferred to Arizona after her sophomore season. In her first season at Arizona, Martinez was All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

Pellington was the only one of the four who received an individual honor, but it turned out to be shared anyway. The Wildcats’ starting point guard joined former Wildcat forward Aaronette Vonleh as the co-winners of the Most Improved Player award.

Pellington’s case for being the most improved player in the conference could have been made last season. In her first season at Arizona, she averaged 5.8 points per game on 39.5 percent shooting. She hit just 5.3 percent of her 3-point shots and 45 percent of her free throws. She grabbed 1.9 rebounds and had one assist against one turnover per game. She got 0.6 steals per game in 15.6 minutes.

She took a huge leap forward in her second season on the floor for the Wildcats. She almost doubled her points per game with 11.3 PPG on 43.7 percent shooting. Her 3-point field goal percentage jumped to the highest in her entire career at 26.2 percent. She hit 64 percent of her free throws. She had 2.5 rebounds. Her assists and turnovers continued to improve. She set her teammates up 2.4 times per game and turned the ball over 1.6 times per game for a 1.9 assist-per-turnover ratio. Her steals increased to 1.5 per game.

Most of Pellington’s stats took another leap forward this season, although a few dropped slightly. More importantly, improvement could be seen by those who watched her. As head coach Adia Barnes said, Pellington began to drive for her teammates instead of for herself. There was less dribbling in order to find an opening for her to score. When she went to the hoop, she was looking to pass to someone with an open shot as often looking for her own shot.

She ended the regular season leading the Wildcats with 13.4 points per game on 54.2 percent shooting. She is one of only four guards in the conference who shoots over 50 percent from the field, including former Oregon guard Jennah Isai who is no longer in the league. Another is teammate Pueyo.

Pellington leads all Pac-12 guards in shooting percentage and is 12th among all Pac-12 players. Her efficiency from both beyond the arc and the free throw line have dropped marginally since last year. She is 5 for 24 (20.8 percent) from 3 and 73 for 116 from the line (62.9 percent). While the percentage is in the 23rd percentile, she is still in the 90th percentile for made free throws simply because she takes so many (4.3 FTA/94th percentile).

Pellington has improved her rebounding to 3.1 RPG. Her assists have gone up to 3.7 per game. With her turnovers only marginally higher than last year at 1.7 per game, she has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.2.

Reese ended the regular season as Arizona’s second-leading scorer with 12.8 points per game at 45.6 percent shooting. Her scoring improved as the team got into conference play, rising to 13.3 from 12.0 PPG.

Over her career, she surpassed her coach to become No. 2 in the Arizona record book for total rebounds. She will leave Tucson trailing only Ify Ibekwe.

Reese will also leave as one of only three players to score at least 1,500 points and grab at least 750 rebounds. When the regular season ended, her numbers stood at 1,898 points and 942 rebounds in 150 games played. She started every one of those 150 games.

Martinez joined Arizona after spending three seasons at West Virginia. She was All-Big-12 First Team her sophomore season and All-Big-12 Second Team her junior season.

In her first season as a Wildcat, Martinez surpassed 1,000 career rebounds. During the regular season, she was one of four on the team to average double-figures with 10.8 PPG.

The rebounding didn’t stay in Morgantown, WV when she left for Tucson. Her 8.6 RPG were first on the team and seventh in the Pac-12 this season. She was third in the league with 3.2 offensive rebounds per game. The two players ahead of her as far as offensive rebounding are two inches and six inches taller than she is at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-8.

Martinez is eligible to return due to the fifth season awarded by the NCAA to players who were on teams in the 2020-21 season. The extra year was added due to the pandemic. Martinez has not decided if she will take advantage of her fifth season.

Pueyo joined Pellington as a member of the Pac-12 All-Defensive team. Although she is a reserve, Pueyo was a crucial as to the Wildcats’ success as any starter and played more minutes than several starters. She is also eligible to return next season but has yet to make up her mind.

Pueyo ended the regular season with more total steals than anyone else in the league. Her 2.3 steals per game were second in the conference trailing only Colorado’s Jaylyn Sherrod. She had 67 total steals, a stat that first in the conference.

Pueyo’s defensive worth wasn’t based just on steals, though. Her versatility allowed her to guard every position effectively except the five. On an undersized and understaffed team, that was crucial. Her tips disrupted opposing offenses and often led to steals credited to others. Her length also led to turnovers that became other Wildcats’ steals.

Her abilities on defense have been recognized at the national level where she is a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

Pellington had the third most steals per game and the third most total steals in the Pac-12. Her 1.9 steals per game were tied with Arizona State’s Jaddan Simmons when rounded, but Pellington had more total steals in fewer total games, outpacing Simmons 1.888 to 1.885.

Pellington was often tasked with matching up with the opponent’s speediest guard. Like Pueyo, she could contribute to the stats of others, applying ball pressure that caused opponents to panic and force dangerous passes that were picked off by another Wildcat.

The coaches voted Alissa Pili of Utah as Pac-12 Player of the Year. Her coach, Lynne Roberts, was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Oregon State’s Raegan Beers was both Freshman of the Year and Sixth Player of the Year. The 2023 Defensive Player of the Year went to Stanford’s Cameron Brink.

Along with Pellington and Reese, the All-Pac-12 team consists of Beers, Brink, Haley Jones and Hannah Jump of Stanford, Gianna Kneepkens of Utah, Charlisse Leger-Walker of Washington State, Destiny Littleton, Rayah Marshall and Kadi Sissoko of USC, Quay Miller and Jaylyn Sherrod of CU, Charisma Osborne of UCLA, and Endyia Rogers of Oregon.

The All-Freshman Team consists of Beers, Chance Gray and Grace VanSlooten of Oregon, and Kiki Rice and Londynn Jones of UCLA.

In addition to Pellington, Pueyo and Brink, the rest of the All-Defensive team were Colorado’s Sherrod and USC’s Marshall.

Arizona was one of five teams to have multiple honorees on the All-Pac-12 team. To make that possible, no one from Arizona State, California or Washington made the team. UCLA, Oregon and Washington State each placed one player on the team.

A second group of honorees selected by the media that covers the Pac-12 will be announced at a later date.