It looks like the question of who will replace Aari McDonald‘s scoring effort that carried the University of Arizona women’s basketball team to the NCAA title game last season has been answered.
McDonald, who led the team in scoring the last three seasons, averaging 21.9 points a game over those three years for a new program record, has graduated and is playing now for the Atlanta Dream in the WNBA. Her always-dependable offensive output enabled the Wildcats to post three consecutive 20-win seasons.
Without the sharpshooting guard on the floor, scoring this season is being done on a committee basis.
In the season’s opener against Cal State Northridge, 15 players participated in the 87-44 win. Twelve of those scored points.
And they’re still spreading the scoring around. In the Cats’ last game, an 80-44 romp over Rutgers, 11 players got on the scoreboard, with three of them scoring in double digits.
One amazing statistic from that game, the final one in the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam tournament, also confirms this team’s depth. The bench contributed 50 points to the victory, more than the entire Scarlet Knights team scored.
Cate Reese led the Cats with 16 points, but Gisela Sanchez came off the bench to add 15 points and fellow reserve Aaronette Vonleh chipped in 12 points.
Reese, who was named the Island Division’s MVP, was second on the scoring list last season, averaging 11 points per game.
The Wildcats lost just two players from a 2020-21 team that lost the national title to Stanford on a desperation shot with 6.1 seconds on the clock. So most on this year’s squad are seasoned competitors.
That’s true also on the defensive end of the floor as well, where the Cats forced Rutgers into 30 turnovers that resulted in 31 points for Arizona. They’re creating an average of 20 turnovers a game so far this season.
That combination of shared shooting and solid defense has the Wildcats ranked No. 7 in the nation. At 7-0 they own the second-longest winning streak among the AP Top 25, behind only No. 1 South Carolina, which is 8-0.
Arizona hasn’t begun Pac-12 play yet, so the challenges of the preseason aren’t a true indicator of where the Cats will be once conference play gets started. But their seven wins included Vanderbilt and Louisville, which made it to the Elite Eight at last year’s Big Dance.
The Wildcats are averaging 74.6 points a game. And doing it without McDonald.
That has to be encouraging for a Wildcat Nation that wasn’t sure of what to expect this season. It looks like the gals could be brewing another deep postseason run.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)