The Arizona women’s basketball team is short-handed this season, but if the season opener against Iona was any indication, the Wildcats will have a lot to look forward too after dismantling the Gaels Friday at McKale Center, 71-58.
Five players scored in double-digits and the team shot 44 percent on the day as head coach Adia Barnes and company got their first win of the season and improve to 1-0. Freshman guard Marlee Kyles has become the ring leader of sorts for a young Arizona squad. Kyles was deferred to on multiple occasions when the offense went stale and contributed a team-high 17 points on 6-for-13 shooting including going 4-for-4 from the free throw line.
“Yes, definitely I feel it on the court, especially being the point guard and kind of the smallest person out there,” Kyles said when asked about if she feels layers looking for her when a play needs to be made. “They look towards me a lot and they know they, like, it’s like kind of they have confidence in me and I am really proud of it. It makes me really happy.”
Barnes re-iterated the fact that Kyles confidence will be a non-issue this season. Saying that she has a dynamic the Wildcats don’t currently have.
“She is always trying and it is a matter of her learning and she is learning a lot of stuff for the first time in an entirely new system,” Barnes said. "She brings us an incredible scoring punch from the bench and I like that. If you see a small guard like Marlee getting six rebounds, I mean she’s tough, she doesn’t back down and I love that.”
Redshirt senior Kat Wright also broke out for a few moments in the first half going 2-for-3 from three and a game-high nine points going into half. Sam Thomas, Destiny Graham and JaLea Bennett also chipped in double figures in the points column to lead the Wildcats to victory.
Perhaps the biggest difference from last season was defensively. The Wildcats gave up 14 points in the first quarter but clamped down, giving up just 19 points in the next two quarters and only six in the second. It is a necessity for Arizona to be sound defensively as well as in the rebounding column if the Wildcats want to be competitive in the Pac-12 this year.
“I was proud of the way they were able to do those things (defensively) and apply them,” Barnes said. “I thought we did a good job.
The differences between exhibition and the regular season were noticeable for the freshmen. In the games first four minutes, outside of some free throws from Kat Wright, the Wildcats couldn’t find their footing. Struggling to score in the games opening few minutes, Bennett finally snapped the field-goal-less streak and put Arizona on the board. The nerves were visible, but the poise and control was too.
“It means a lot more, the pressure is definitely on now that every game counts,” Thomas said. “Our senior JaLea, we’re trying to play for her in post-game, so every game counts.”
Arizona will go on the road for the next two weeks before returning home on Nov. 28th against Long Beach State. In between then the Wildcats will take on Utah State, Loyola Marymount, TCU and either Cal-State Northridge or Idaho.
Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter