Analysis: Arizona women's basketball is off to a hot start
Aari McDonald (2) is all smiles with teammates Cate Reese, Bryce Nixon and Tee Tee Starks after their victory over TCU on Wednesday, April 3rd to advance to the WNIT championship game.
Arizona women's basketball is off to an impressive start this season, posting a 5-0 record and reaching No. 24 in the Coaches Poll for the first time in 15 years. Things are clicking on all cylinders for Head Coach Adia Barnes and company, as they are still striving to receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats' historic start seems to have been fueled off the team’s success with last years WNIT Championship, since they have essentially dominated all of their competition on both ends of the floor.
Arizona is playing with a chip on their shoulders and are out to prove all the doubters wrong. Here are some observations of their five games thus far.
Taking the Offensive:
It’s no secret this year that Arizona can fill it up, scoring at least 80 points in the last three games, beating its opponents by an average scoring margin of 27.4 points.
This can be attributed to its ball movement, as there have been drastic improvements in the team's ability to get more players involved, averaging 18 assists per game through the first five games, six assists more per game than the previous season.
The 'Cats have also been more consistent from deep than in recent seasons, as they are shooting 36.9% from distance this year. Along with shooting better from three, Arizona is substantially better from the charity stripe this year as opposed to last. They are shooting 83% so far this season, a 14% increase from last season.
Having Aari McDonald also helps, as she is continuing one of the most historic runs in Arizona women's basketball history. With averages similar to last season when she was named All-Pac-12 team and even breaking her own records along the way. In her last game, she broke the single-game scoring record set by herself in 2018 when she scored 39 against LMU, scoring 44 against then-ranked No. 22 Texas.
There were a couple areas from last year that Arizona needed to address before the start of the season, those being getting stops on the defensive end while turning turnovers into points and being able to battle for boards.
The Wildcats struggled to keep their opposition off the boards, playing a role in them ultimately not making the NCAA Tournament last season, allowing around 36 rebounds per game this past year and thus losing the rebounding margin by nearly a rebound per game. They have flipped the switch this season, as they have been able to out-rebound their opponents by 6 boards per contest.
One of the bigger turnarounds the 'Cats have displayed in their first five games this season is capitalizing off the opportunities they create on the defensive end of the court. Arizona’s aggressive defensive start has them up to 12 steals per game, up four steals from last year’s per-game totals. They have been able to cash in on the extra opportunities they have created on the defensive end, scoring nine more points off turnovers than they were able to accomplish last season.
It seems as though the experience factor from the WNIT Championship has been detrimental to the success of the team as experienced this early into the season. The team has kept the core intact, as they had eight players return from last year’s championship squad. Barnes has the women’s program heading in the right direction as the team chemistry continues to build and they await the return of one of their key contributors from last season, senior forward Tee Tee Starks.
Arizona will look to continue their dominance and extend to 6-0 on the season, as they are slated for a quick one-game road trip against Montana on Sunday before coming back home for a two-game homestand, hosting UC Riverside and Monmouth.
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