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From Beyond The Arc: Arizona WBB 2023 Preview

Can AZ stay near the top of the Pac?

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Maryland Photo by Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images
Arizona v Stanford Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Head coach Adia Barnes enters her eighth season coaching the Wildcats. After a rocky first two seasons, Barnes has lead her teams to the postseason in the last four seasons where postseason play occurred. In 2019 Arizona was the WNIT champions and in 2021 they reached the NCAA Championship game, losing a close game to Stanford. The past two seasons, the Wildcats advanced to the round of 32.

Last season, Arizona was 22-10 (11-7 Pac-12, T-4th) and was a 4-seed in the Pac-12 tournament. They lost their quarterfinals first game against UCLA (who advanced to the championship game, losing to WSU). They were selected as a #7 seed in the NCAA tournament, and won their first round game against #10 West Virginia before losing in the second round against #2 Maryland.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Maryland Photo by Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Arizona generally played better on their home court than on the road. At home, the Wildcats won 75% of their games, but on the road they won 54%. As a team, AZ shot 43.8% from the field (33.2% on threes), and 68.2% from the line. They averaged 14.64 assists to 12.47 turnovers per game.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 19 Womens Colorado at Arizona
#1 Shaina Pellington
Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Arizona’s starters last year were primarily comprised of seniors or 5th year seniors. Shaina Pellington was the scoring leader, averaging 13.4 PPG on 53.7% shooting (159/296), including 20% from range (5/25) and 63.5% from the line. Cate Reese averaged 13.2 PPG on 45.9% shooting (21.1% from range, 8/38) and 74% from the line. Esmery Martinez averaged 10.5 PPG on 50.6% shooting (33.3% from range, 21/63) and 71.2% from the line. Jade Loville averaged 9.8 PPG on 38.9% shooting (36.1% from range, 43/119) and 68.3% from the line. Their other major starter was Lauren Fields.

The Wildcats lose all of their starters except 6-2 F Esmery Martinez, a 5th year senior. Four players transferred out at the end of last season: 5-8 Fr. G Paris Clark (Virginia), 5-11 So. G Madison Conner (TCU), 5-9 Sr. G Lauren Fields (grad xfer to West Virginia), 5-11 Fr. G Lemayah Hylton (Miami [FL]), and 6-5 Jr. F Lauren Ware (Texas A&M). (Ware did not play last year due to injury).

Arizona brings in four freshmen in their 2023 class, although it was announced earlier this month that Montaya Dew will be out for the season for surgery on her left knee.

5-6 PG Jada Williams is from Kansas City, Mo., and is a 2023 McDonald’s All-American as well as a SLAM All-American.

Skylar Jones is a 6-0 G from Chicago. She is a 4* recruit that was the 96th-ranked recruit by ESPN HoopGurlz in the class of 2023.

6-4 F Breya Cunningham is a 2023 McDonald’s All-American from Chula Vista, CA. She was a first team All-Conference, All-City and All-State honoree in each year of high school.

With so many upperclassmen moving on, coach Barnes has looked to the portal for help and is bringing in the following four transfers:

Isis Beh is a 6-3 R-Jr. F from West Virginia. Last season, West Virginia (19-12, 10-8 Big-12) landed a spot in the NCAA tournament and were bounced out in the first round by none other than Arizona. In 2022-23, Beh played in 27 games, averaging 10.1 minutes and 3.1 points per game. She shot 52.2% (35/67, 1-2 on threes), and 50% at the line.

Sali Kourouma is a 5-11 R-Sr. W from Little Rock. She was the 2023 Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) Player of the Year. Last season she started in 11 of the 20 games she played. Kourouma averaged 27.4 minutes per game and 16.8 PPG. She shot 41.1% from the field (19.2% on threes), and 66.7% from the line.

Courtney Blakely is a 5-8 Jr, G from Middle Tennessee. In 22-23, she started in 10 of 31 games. Blakely shot 42.8%, including 28.6% on the long ball, and 75.3% from the stripe. She averaged 26.5 MPG and 7.1 PPG.

Fanta Gassama is a 6-1 Jr. F out of South Georgia Tech. She started in 28 of 30 games for SGTC, averaging 17.6 MPG and 13.3 PPG. Gassama shot 50% (did not shoot any threes) from the field and 71.7% from the line.

Arizona is looking to reload in 23-24, but they have a tall task ahead of them in replacing so many productive veterans. I would expect that this season will be time for the youngsters to shine. The Wildcats will likely be competing in the upper 13 of the last season of Pac-12 play.