Arizona senior forward Cate Reese will be making her return to the court on Saturday for the first-round NCAA tournament game against UNLV that begins at 7 p.m. at McKale Center.
Reese separated her right shoulder on Feb. 20 at Washington State, and the injury kept her out for the remaining two games regular season games against UCLA and USC and the Pac-12 tournament game against Colorado.
Reese has been sporting a shoulder brace in practice and taking part in the drills the last two weeks. Her teammates are excited to have her back on the court.
“Cate is 100 percent. She’s ready to play,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “And 100 percent, meaning is she ready to play. Can she play? Can she be physical? Is she limited? No, she’s not, so yes, she’s a 100 percent. She’s ready.”
Reese was attempting a layup during a fastbreak, but two Cougars players got tangled up with her in mid-air. Reese tried to brace her fall, landing on both of her arms and over extending the shoulder upon landing.
Reese could have played during the Pac-12 tournament, but head coach Adia Barnes felt it was best to let her rest.
“It’s always nice just to have Cate on the floor with us,” post player Lauren Ware said. “We’re really excited to have her back. She’s a huge part of this team, obviously. So just getting her back on the floor and in practice and stuff, it helps us out a lot and it helps me out a lot just because I learn a lot from her and she makes me a better player.”
Reese, an AP All-American honorable mention selection, has been instrumental to Arizona’s offense and defense this entire season.
Cate Reese running a full-court drill appears to be fine. No sign of pain or discomfort. pic.twitter.com/jVs4JLBjnL
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) March 18, 2022
She is currently the leading scorer on the team with an average of 14.6 points per a game. She is also averaging a team-best 6.2 rebounds per a game.
It is unclear how many minutes she may play in her first game back, but Barnes and teammates are beyond happy to have her help again.
“I would say four, five minutes straight and then a media (timeout),” Barnes said. “I would say minutes-wise overall, I would say 30 minutes. I’m not going to play her the whole game. But with our style, it’s difficult to play anybody 40 minutes. So I would say 30 minutes.”
“I’m just glad Cate’s back, even for just the fact of the morale of the team and the confidence. So even, let’s say, she played less, she is still impactful and she’s still helpful for us to win.”
FINALLY SHOWING HER WARES
Ware has steadily gained strength since her knee injury midseason that kept her out a month.
In her last two games — against USC in the last game of the regular season and against Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament – she scored 27 points with 19 rebounds combined.
The scoring total was better than her six previous games combined (19 points) and rebounding numbers were more than her previous eight games (18).
“Obviously, it’s always hard coming off of an injury, just kind of getting back to 100 percent and feeling completely normal,” said Ware, who suffered a dislocated right knee on Dec. 9 against North Dakota State at McKale Center.
“I think it definitely took me awhile to kind of get back into the groove of things. But I definitely feel like I’m 100 percent now and I’m feeling comfortable on the court.”
Ware, who returned Jan. 13 at Oregon State, matched with Reese in the middle will be crucial going against UNLV’s frontcourt that includes Desi-Rae Young (15.1 points and 8.4 rebounds a game), Nneka Obiazor (5.8 rebounds a game) and Khayla Rooks (5.4).
UNLV is outrebounding opponents 40.5 to 33.8 while Arizona is averaging less than opponents, 33.2 to 32.9.
“We have more size (with 6-foot-2 Reese and 6-3 Ware), so we should be good,” Barnes said. “But they are relentless on boards, especially even offensively, their guards. I think that also mid-major, the posts are typically smaller (Young and Rooks are 6-1 and Obiazor is 5-10), and I think in the Pac-12 we’re typically a lot bigger.
“Some of their players are 5-10 and we’re 6-3 to 6-5, so it’s just a little bit different. But we, by no means, approach this game like it’s a mismatch. We know they’re a very good team and they’re capable of winning. In my opinion, they’re better than the 13 seed.”
ARIZONA’S IMPACT ON YOUTH IN COMMUNITY
Barnes and Sam Thomas were asked about the impact they have on the interest of the youth in the community after last year’s run to the national championship game and the fact that Thomas is very popular on and off the court.
“I feel like we kind of brought a little bit of excitement to the younger girls after our run last year, and then having Aari (McDonald) being a WNBA draft pick, I think that brings excitement to the city itself,” said Thomas, who runs her own popular clothing line and has NIL deals with Sam’s Club and Eegee’s. “And then knowing like Tucson basketball’s rising. Salpointe women’s basketball just won their state championship game.
“Everyone’s coming into Tucson and we’re raising the stakes for basketball. Everyone’s doing a great job. And then just knowing we’re supporting each other, looking out for their games, they’re watching us and obviously wearing all of our gear and merch and all that stuff. It’s just a great atmosphere that we’re creating here.”
ARIZONA TO BE CHALLENGED BY UNLV POST PLAYER WITH ALMOST 300 REBOUNDS
Young had a comical response when asked how a player tallies almost 300 rebounds in a season — she has 269 and is averaging 8.4 a game.
“I don’t know. My teammates are always complaining how I be taking their rebounds, so I don’t know,” she said with a laugh. “Just being tough against the glass. We always do 55 threes (3-pointers) and Coach Lindy always is like, ‘Don’t let the ball hit the ground. Like, chase it down, follow it, see where it goes, and go get it.’ So I just think, like, her yelling at me and yelling at us just makes us want to get rebounds more.”
La Rocque sat nearby on the interview podium and looked at Young with a smile.
It’s obvious the young La Rocque, 32, relates well to her players.
UNLV BY THE BOOKER
Barnes mentioned that UNLV starting point guard Essence Booker is the “heart beat of their team.”
“She’s the catalyst on offense; she can score in a lot different ways,” Barnes said.
Booker will face some of the best defenders in the Pac-12 on the perimeter — Arizona’s Bendu Yeaney, Shaina Pellington and Helena Pueyo — at different times.
How does that array of talent compare to what she has faced in the Mountain West?
“Comparing their guards to what we faced in the Mountain West season, they have a lot of size, a lot of strength, obviously,” said Booker, who is averaging 15.6 points and 3.8 assists per game. “They have some big guards. But it’s just going to be about heart. I don’t feel like the size and the strength is really going to matter.
“Obviously, it does if we’re talking technical, but it’s going to be about heart and who wants it more. I mean, it’s March Madness, so….”