March Madness is the biggest stage in college basketball, but senior guard Shaina Pellington is no stranger to playing on the biggest one the game has to offer.
Pellington was a part of the Arizona team that made it to the championship game of the 2021 NCAA Tournament and narrowly lost to Stanford. This run is similar to last year’s, only now Arizona will host its first tournament game.
The NCAA tournament is in Tucson for the first time since 1997-98 when Adia Barnes was a senior at Arizona. She is now coaching the No. 4-seeded Wildcats, who are slated to play the No. 13 UNLV Lady Rebels Saturday at 7 p.m.
“I mean, it’s very different,” Pellington said on what is unique about this season from the last. “Obviously, we get to host. So it’s different being at home. We had to go through security just to get into McKale, you know what I mean?
“So it’s kind of odd. But we’re super excited to prepare for the tournament. We’re really happy that we get to be here and play in front of our fans, so it should be a lot of fun.”
Pellington shined during March Madness last year in the national championship game against Stanford with a season-high 15 points and five rebounds before fouling out.
“I’m super pumped and I know my teammates are super excited as well,” Pellington said. “We’re kind of just taking it one game at a time, focusing on what’s at task right now and in this moment and not really looking to the future really.”
Originally from Ontario, Canada, Pellington played on the Canadian national team in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She began her career at Oklahoma in 2017 and transferred to Arizona two years later. She sat out the 2019-2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Pellington brings the presence of a leader when she steps foot on the court. That much can be determined given her 10.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game this season, a year after All-American Aari McDonald played at the point.
Pellington isn’t the only player with the Wildcats that has experience from last year’s postseason. In fact there are 10 other players that returned from last year’s historic season. With that many players with tournament experience, the Wildcats are feeling confident for the first round matchup with the Lady Rebels.
“We’re all super confident, and like I said before, I keep saying the word excited, but to be here and to have (an) opportunity to do something special, again, like we did last year,” Pellington said. “So, yeah, it’s going to be a lot of fun for us, getting to play at home, play against these really good teams, and get to prove ourselves yet again, that we’re deserving of being here and that we’re one of the best teams in the country.”
Pellington will have her hands full with UNLV guard Essence Booker, who is averaging 15.6 points, 3.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals per a game.ll
Barnes knows that Booker is a threat but feels that Arizona has what it takes to contain her — whether it is Pellington or Bendu Yeaney or another player.
“She’s an elite player and we definitely respect her and she’s definitely going to be an area of focus for our team,” Barnes said on how they will try to contain Booker. “We know that we have to slow her down and control her. She’s going to score because she’s a good player, but we have to make her work hard to score so she will feel our pressure.”