NCAA NOTES: Arizona & North Carolina having a ball — a new Wilson one for March Madness

Arizona’s Bendu Yeaney, Cate Reese and Sam Thomas meet the press in Sunday’s press conference before practice (Javier Morales/

Arizona was going through a tough shooting start against UNLV on Saturday night, making three of its first 16 shots from the field and the exasperation from the crowd could be heard when multiple short-range shots were missed.

The Wildcats were coming off a 25-percent shooting performance in the 45-43 loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament two weeks ago, and they appeared to be headed to similar frustration against the Lady Rebels making only 20 percent of their shots in the first quarter.

Arizona overcame the rough start by making 22 of its last 41 shots (53.7 percent) from the field the remainder of the game, including 7 of 14 in the pivotal fourth quarter, to beat the Lady Rebels 72-67 to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The fourth-seeded Wildcats (21-7) will play No. 5 North Carolina (24-6) at McKale Center on Monday at 7 p.m.

“Maybe it was jitters, nerves for the first game (for the cold start) — I don’t know,” said Arizona forward Cate Reese, who made 6 of 12 shots from the field and finished with 16 points (nine in the fourth quarter) in her first game in almost a month after suffering a separated shoulder at Washington State on Feb. 20.

“That’s definitely just a mental lag for us,” Reese continued. “I think we just need to get out there strong and jump out there from the beginning. I think we were all serious. I don’t think it was anything like that. We were missing shots. They were hitting tough shots. So I think that’s sometimes how it happens.”

The new Wilson EVO NXT ball is being used for the first time this NCAA tournament (NCAA photo)

Bendu Yeaney then mentioned the Wildcats also had to adapt the new Wilson basketball the NCAA is using in the NCAA tournament.

“The ball has changed … we are not playing with a Nike ball,” Yeaney said. “It is a little harder and you have to adjust differently. We played with Nike balls the whole year and now switched to Wilson. It is a little different and our shooting is different a little bit. The texture is different.”

The brighter orange basketballs the NCAA is using for the first time in March Madness are called the EVO NXT ball created by Wilson.  According to a press release in June 2021, Wilson Team Sports general manager Kevin Murphy said the new balls are the “highest caliber of basketballs” with “an extra layer of grip and moisture management.”

The release also stated the ball has “a super soft core providing exceptional control and a softer feel. The Evo NXT’s revolutionary extended-range tech optimally balances the weight of the ball, with advanced internal construction, making the ball easier to shoot from long-range.”

A ball came my way during North Carolina’s warmups before its game with Stephen F. Austin on Saturday and it felt spongy, no where near the leathery feel most are accustomed to with basketballs.

Adia Barnes, who as a player also took part in an NCAA tournament at McKale, said she would prefer the NCAA stick with the same basketball from the start of the season to the end.

“As a player, I hated it when the balls changed,” she said. “I don’t think that should happen. I think there should be one ball, and it should be consistent. … I don’t like it when they change. I don’t think that is good for the game. I’m not talking about sponsorship. Just talking about basketball and pure players.”

Barnes did mention that she believes the Wilson ball is “not bad at all.”

“I think it’s different. It’s different and different is an adjustment, but I’m sure it’s an adjustment for North Carolina, too,” she said. “I think it is what it is. Those are the little things. Who can handle those types of changes are successful in the tournament.

“Who can handle like limited time on the court? Who can handle quick turnarounds? Who can handle not tons of preparation for the next team? Who can handle a different ball, different atmosphere? Those are teams that do well. And last year (making it to the NCAA title game), we were great at handling all that stuff. We have to be great at doing whatever we need to do. If we had to play with kind of a flat ball, you do what you need to do. So does North Carolina. You figure out a way and you don’t let all of that stuff get to you.”

North Carolina reserve guard Eva Hodgson and coach Courtney Banghart said the Tar Heels had enough time Friday in Friday’s workout to get used to the Wilson ball.

Asked if the ball impacted her shooting, Hodson said, “Personally, no. We had time on Friday and Saturday to get enough touches with the ball to feel more comfortable with it. And I think this is something as you get more — like even today and tomorrow — we’ll have more touches, so I didn’t feel it affected our game at all. But it also depends on the team.”

Hodgson was 3 of 10 from the field, including 2 of 6 from 3-point range in the 79-66 win over Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.


Arizona’s players were asked in Sunday’s press conference about what team North Carolina reminds them of in the Pac-12, and likewise, the North Carolina players were asked about any possible ACC opponents that are similar to Arizona.

Sam Thomas mentioned the Tar Heels remind her of Utah, which Arizona defeated 76-64 on Jan. 21 but the Utes have improved from then and advanced to the NCAA tournament second round before losing at Texas 78-56 on Sunday.

“Just scoring and shooting the threes and hitting screens off pull-ups, just doing it all,” Thomas gave for her reasons why the Tar Heels are similar to Utah.

North Carolina has attempted 555 shots from 3-point range this season and have made 175 for a percentage of 31.5.

In the win over Stephen F. Austin, North Carolina made 9 of 23 shots from 3-point range but the Tar Heels did not solely rely on shots beyond the arc.

Leading scorer Deja Kelly, who had 28 points, made 4 of 7 shots from 3-point range but she was also 4 of 8 inside the arc and she drew fouls that resulted in an 8-of-8 performance from the free-throw line.

North Carolina’s Alyssa Utsby mentioned that Arizona reminds her of Georgia Tech, which defeated North Carolina 55-38 on Jan. 23 — the second-worst loss for the Tar Heels this season (N.C. State defeated them 72-45 on Jan. 6 in Raleigh, N.C.).

“The similarities (between Arizona and Georgia Tech) I would say are their too strong and tall low post players (Reese and Lauren Ware) as well as a facilitating guard (Shaina Pellington) and the shooter off ball (Thomas, Madison Conner, Taylor Chavez, etc.), so I’d say those two are pretty similar but definitely have to treat them a little differently based on their personnel and the style of play.”

Banghart was quick to correct Utsby when she sat at the podium fielding questions.

“There’s an innocence to these college kids — they don’t really keep a track of what’s happening, right?” Banghart said. “They (Wildcats) are not very similar to Georgia Tech. They’re similar that there’s two tall people on the court at one time. Other than that, Georgia Tech wants to score in the 50’s. That’s really because their pace of play as well.

“Georgia Tech is not like Arizona, actually very different. Those of you who are actually writing an article on this should know Arizona is more like Miami on the women’s side. Miami is much more up tempo. They’ve got dynamic guards. They’ve got bigs and they want to extend the court on both directions over 94 feet.”

North Carolina beat Miami 85-38 at Chapel Hill on Feb. 6, the Tar Heel’s largest margin of victory in ACC games this season.


The largest crowd North Carolina has played in this season was at Notre Dame on Jan. 16 when a crowd of 5,905 wartched the Fighting Irish win 70-65. The next-largest crowd was 5,500 at N.C. State, which beat the Tar Heels 72-45 on Jan. 6.

More than 10,000 fans — a potential sellout — might take place at McKale Center on Monday night with the fans who were watching the men play in San Diego back in Tucson. A crowd of 9,573 watched Arizona’s game with UNLV on Saturday night.

“Personally, I love to play in front of big crowds, especially away gyms, because there isn’t always necessarily an underlying theme of love,” North Carolina reserve guard Eva Hodgson said.

Hodgson and the Tar Heels watched Arizona’s game with UNLV from the stands after defeating Stephen F. Austin and she mentioned Arizona fans were cordial with them.

“It was fun to see (the crowd) yesterday and to be able to walk through the crowd and even interact with people,” she said. “They’re great. I mean, they’re friendly, they’re fun, and they’re congratulating us on moving on and so personally, I’m really excited.”

Utsby said the wild atmosphere in the postseason will make for an opportunity to have fun.

“I’m looking forward to the crowd that Arizona and our team is gonna bring tomorrow night,” she said. “A crowd similar to this size I would say probably is like playing at N.C. State. That fan base is a little more aggressive towards some of the players, rkind of rightfully so considering the rivalry. I’m also really looking forward to it and I think our team is gonna have a lot of fun playing in that crowd, for sure.”

Banghart, who mentioned Friday that North Carolina should have been a host site in the tournament, believes that her team will be ready for what McKale Center will have in store.

“When you put this much time into something you want it to matter, right?” Banghart said. “When we walk out on that floor to start our warm ups and when I come out to meet my team, it will be very clear that this matters, right? Like, what else could you ask for? I’m coaching basketball for a living. That’s a gratitude on gratitude and then you’re doing it in front of people that care.

“I think the crowd size, it definitely creates an advantage for Arizona, because their positives feel more positive and our positives don’t feel as positive if you allow the noise to get to be a part of it. … It’s just a testament to this community and how they’ve rallied around women’s basketball and what Adia has done to gravitate the fans back here. As a basketball coach, it’s gratifying.”

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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