Pac-12 women’s basketball season preview: Best recruiting class in Pac-12 boosts Wildcats’ hopes for future

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In preparation for the 2018 women’s basketball season, Can Sarioz will preview each of Cal’s Pac-12 opponents.

Coming back home after a long day and seeing a sweet surprise waiting for you, whether it be the warm smell of food or friends and family waiting to cheer you up — that’s how Arizona fans should feel right now.

After a tough season, getting the fourth-best recruiting class in the nation and the best in the Pac-12 conference makes for an early Christmas in Tucson, Arizona.

The Wildcats finished the 2017-18 campaign with a 6-24 overall and 2-16 conference record, losing their final seven matchups. Their last win came against Washington, 72-70, and those two extra points kept the Wildcats away from finishing at the bottom of the Pac-12.

The desert has been a livable habitat for the Wildcats, but they had a hard time getting out of their comfort zone, as they managed to steal just one out of 12 road games. The not-so-perfect ending to the troubled season came at the hands of cross-state rivals, as the Sun Devils dominated in a 76-47 blowout defeat during the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.

There are many kinks to improve on, but the most obvious was the depth and lack of quality in the roster, as the team lost its only two players with double-digit scoring coming into last season. Now, guard JaLea Bennett, who was the Wildcats’ leading scorer this past season, is also gone.

The Wildcats were outplayed by their opponents last season in every major offensive category except free throw percentage, but even then, they were scoring the same average points from the charity stripe as their opponents.

Arizona averaged only 57.9 points per game to their opponents’ 70.7, while allowing a high opponent field goal percentage of .436.

Defensively, however, the Wildcats matched their opponents in hustle stats such as steals and blocks, but their lack of height came into play as they got outrebounded by nine per game. Allowing more than 70 points is unsustainable, but the main problem seems to be on offense.

The ball movement was a big issue, as the Wildcats only averaged a mere 10 assists per game with an embarrassing assist/turnover ratio of 0.7. Junior guard Lucia Alonso, who was the only Wildcat with more than 50 assists on the season, will be called on as a court general even more this year.

The depth problem, however, might take a turn in the right direction this year. Even though the guard rotation will be shallower in terms of numbers after losing four guards from last year’s roster, redshirt sophomore Aarion McDonald, who sat out last season because of transfer regulations, will help make up for the departures.

One of the welcome additions this season is freshman Bryce Nixon, a 4-star recruit who is part of the best incoming class in the Pac-12, which featured three 5-star and two 4-star recruits at the time of the ratings.

Unfortunately, one of the 5-star prospects and the No. 3 international recruit, forward Valeria Trucco out of Italy, decided to stay home after signing a professional deal with Pallacanestro Torino.

The Wildcats will still have two 5-star post players, as guard Cate Reese and center Semaj Smith, the tallest in the class at 6’5”, will join the Wildcats to solve the rebounding problem for the years to come.

As a usual sign of rebuilding, Arizona had large incoming classes for the second year in a row, and it might have hit the jackpot this year.

Now, it’s up to head coach Adia Barnes to build the team’s chemistry, as it needs players to step up together to prevent depth from being a recurring problem.

In a tough conference like the Pac-12, a lot of things need to go right for the Wildcats to move higher in the standings, but a recruiting class of this caliber is a right step for the future.

Can Sariöz covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @can_sarioz.