WBB preview: After two years of tournament runs, the Wildcats are working to mesh a team full of new faces

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Nathanial Stenchever | The Daily Wildcat

The Arizona women's basketball team huddles during an exhibition game against West Texas A&M University on Oct. 27, in McKale Center. The Wildcats won 86-63.

The Arizona women’s basketball team is a team on the rise. 

Since 2016, the team has been led by head coach Adia Barnes, a former University of Arizona women’s basketball standout, Pac-10 Player of the Year in 1998 and WNBA Champion in 2004. 

Barnes is recognized not only for her outstanding basketball skills and game knowledge, but also for her tenacity and determination on the court. Since 2018 the team has amassed a 100–33 record, including a Women’s National Invitational Tournament Championship in 2019 and a trip to the final game of the 2021 Women’s NCAA Tournament vs Stanford University after defeating perennial powerhouse University of Connecticut in the semifinals. 

Taking the lead from their coach, the Arizona women’s basketball team can flat-out play. 

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Like all coaches in the NCAA, Barnes must navigate graduating team members as well as the newly instituted transfer portal. The team posted a fantastic 21-7 record last year that included an invite to the prestigious NCAA Tournament. 

The run in the tourney last spring was not as long as Wildcat fans had hoped, but did have the team beat the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and then lose to the University of North Carolina. After the run, many players graduated, including Semaj Smith (center), Bendu Yeaney (guard) and forwards Ariyah Copeland and Sam Thomas. The Wildcats also lost a few players to the transfer portal, so the team has some big roles to fill for this upcoming season. 

Barnes is constantly on the hunt for ways to improve her roster. Combining the transfer portal with back-to-basics traditional recruiting, she was able to lock in a talented group of athletes for the 2022-23 season. 

Utilizing the transfer portal, the team added Esmery Martinez (senior and forward) from West Virginia University and Lauren Fields (senior and guard) from Oklahoma State University, bolstering the roster with not only exceptional talent but great team players with valuable D-1 experience. 

One of the best acquisitions came directly from ASU, Jade Loville. Loville was just named to the 2023 Ann Meyers Drysdale Award Watch list and is considered one of the top shooting guards in the NCAA. 

Barnes was also able to offer scholarships to four freshman – guards: Lemyah Hylton, Kailyn Gilbert and Paris Clark along with Maya Nnaji. 

The cupboard wasn’t bare for the Wildcats either, with returning players including fifth-year seniors Shaina Pellington and Cate Reese, senior Helena Pueyo, junior Lauren Ware and sophomore Madison Conner. The team has been working hard to blend the new team members with the returning players to form a cohesive unit. 

Reese is one of the fifth-year seniors providing leadership on the court and in the locker room. 

Reese is a 3-time All Pac-12 player coming off a shoulder injury that had her miss most of last year. Her drive, coupled with the combination of returning starters, transfers and freshmen should set this team up for a successful run, not only through the Pac-12 but also deep into the NCAA Tournament this spring. 

The team’s first exhibition game was on Oct. 27 against West Texas A&M University, which Arizona has not played against since 1980. This allowed Barnes the flexibility to test out starters and give some of the freshmen an opportunity to prove themselves prior to the start of the regular and Pac-12 seasons. 

The Wildcats would start the game strong scoring 24 in the first quarter and another 22 in the second. The Wildcats would go on to score 40 more points in the second half, winning the game 86-63. ASU Transfer, Loville lead the Wildcats in the Oct. 27, game with 20 points in 25 minutes of game play.

Arizona then took on California State University, Los Angeles in their second and final exhibition game on Nov. 2 in McKale Center. The Wildcats crushed CSU Los Angeles 104-46, making this the second year in a row where the Wildcats broke 100 points in an exhibition game.

A game to mark on your calendar is at home against Baylor University Bears on Dec. 18. Baylor is coming off a long run of sustained success and will provide the Wildcats with a great test. 

Striving to meld her new roster into a Pac-12 powerhouse, Barnes is expecting consistent hard-nosed effort that brings intensity and victories to every game. This team is looking to rock McKale Center and bring home the W’s all year. 


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