Arizona Women's Basketball

Arizona focusing on rebounding, limiting North Carolina’s transition offense

Arizona tips off against North Carolina at 7 p.m. in the second round of the NCAA tournament at McKale Center. The game will be televised live on ESPN2 (broadcasters are Ann Schatz and Dan Hughes) and broadcast on radio live at KTUC 1400-AM with Brody Dryden calling the action. Only about 2,000 tickets remain at $20 each. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

Arizona coach Adia Barnes said at least two essential elements against North Carolina on Monday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament will be transition defense and rebounding.

Both require the fourth-seeded Wildcats (21-7) to be very active overall and to also be scrappy and tough.

Those elements have generally described Barnes’ teams in most of her six seasons at her alma mater.

“I think just being that Arizona Defense that we normally bring, we have to bring that from the get-go here on out,” Cate Reese said. “It’s do or die, so we have to be ready.”

Arizona is coming off getting outrebounded 36-22 against a smaller UNLV lineup that started one player who was taller than 6-foot — Desi-Rae Young, at 6-foot-1, and she had 16 points and 11 rebounds in Arizona’s 72-67 win.

North Carolina’s Alyssa Ustby leads the Tar Heels with 8.6 rebounds a game (Andy Morales/

“I think that we didn’t do a good job of rebounding and a lot of it had to do with our slow rotations,” Barnes said. “I think because we were in the slow rotations, we weren’t doing good on the backside for rebounds. … We have to rebound better, have to box out better and definitely have to box out perimeter players.”

North Carolina starts four guards and one center at 6-foot-4 — Anya Poole — who played only 11 minutes and did not try a shot against Stephen F. Austin’s full-court pressing defense in the Tar Heels’ 79-66 win Saturday.

One of the guards is Deja Kelly from San Antonio, where she was part of Jason Terry’s AAU program, according to Barnes. Kelly is coming off a 28-point performance against Stephen F. Austin in which she made 8-of-15 shots from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.

Kelly will likely face Shaina Pellington and Bendu Yeaney, Arizona’s two best defenders, on the perimeter at different times. Sam Thomas will likely rotate over Kelly, as will Helena Pueyo when she is in the game.

Asked about Arizona’s mindset going into the game concerning Kelly, Yeaney said, “Just not let her score.”

Arizona is looking to go to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row (Andy Morales/

“I mean, just make her take a lot of tough shots,” she said. “She likes a lot of pull-ups so just make a lot of our pull-ups really hard. She likes going left a lot, so try to force her right to make her uncomfortable. So just making her asncomfortable as possible.

“I think I have a lot of length and I’m a little taller than her so it’s going to help me have a little advantage.”

UNLV’s leading scorer Essence Booker was limited to 12 points and was not a factor in the Lady Rebels’ offensive flow and she mentioned after the game that it seemed that “I feel like every time I did try to push in transition or (fellow guard) Kiara Jackson did, there was someone in our face.”

Barnes said Arizona was going to concentrate on its rebounding in practice Sunday.

The Wildcats are getting outrebounded by an average of 33.3 to 32.5 this season.

“I think it’s about the mentality,” Sam Thomas said. “Doesn’t take much skill to turn around and box out and rebound. We got caught ball watching because we felt we could just jump (UNLV’s shorter lineup) and get the rebounds, which isn’t the case.

“Knowing we have to work on techniques and have the right mentality, we got to box out because we know North Carolina is a great offensive rebounding team. So we haveto focus on the boxing out and rebounding if we want to
win the game.”

The Tar Heels are outrebounding their opponents 43.1 to 35.7. Alyssa Ustby, listed as a 6-foot-1 guard, is the only player in the ACC’s top five in offensive and defensive rebounding. She is averaging 8.6 rebounds a game.

“Getting good at rebounding is just a consistent will to go get the ball,” Ustby said. “Definitely takes a little bit of skill, learned skill, which is boxing out and grabbing the ball with two hands, but it’s really whichever team and which individual is willing to put themselves in a position where they’re going to get bumped around constantly on both ends of the floor.

“I think that is a skill that our team takes pride in. Therefore, we out-rebound a lot of teams.”


Arizona — Adia Barnes achieved her 100th win at Arizona in January in her sixth season at her alma mater. Her record is 110-73 (which is also her career mark). She is 90-33 (.732) since starting 20-40 in her first two seasons of rebuilding the program. In her first NCAA tournament experience as a head coach last year, Barnes was 5-1 advancing all the way to the championship game against Stanford. She was 6-0 with a WNIT title at the end of the 2018-19 season. Her team beat UNLV in the first round of March Madness Saturday. So her postseason coaching record is 12-1.

North Carolina — Courtney Banghart, in her third season at North Carolina, is 53-31 with the Tar Heels. She is in her 15th season overall having coached 12 years at Princeton before with a 254-103 record from 2007-19. She has coached nine teams to the NCAA tournament, including seven with Princeton. The furthest she has coached a team is the second round to this point — this year’s team and the 2014-15 Princeton team that was 30-0 before losing 85-70 to Maryland and former Arizona player Brenda Frese as coach.


Shaina Pellington had 30 points against UNLV on Saturday (Andy Morales/

Shaina Pellington is turning out to be Miss March with her 15-point performance against Stanford in last year’s national title game and her 30 points in the first-round win over UNLV. She got Arizona’s offense rolling against UNLV after the Wildcats started 20 percent from the field. Her attacking mentality to the basket is what Arizona needs and what helped facilitate that is the presence of Cate Reese, who can open things up by shooting facing the basket. Pellington and Reese combined for 22 points in the decisive fourth quarter against the Lady Rebels after trailing by five points after the third quarter. Pellington joined Aari McDonald and Adia Barnes as the only three Arizona players to score at
least 30 points in an NCAA Tournament game.

— Arizona will try to cause havoc once again with its full-court defense that can lead to high-percentage shots or fouls in transition. in the Wildcats last five games before the NCAA tournament, when it has struggled offensively, it scored less than 10 points in fast-break opportunities four times — six against Washington, four against Washington State, six against UCLA and eight against Colorado. Arizona helped force UNLV into 19 turnovers and that led to 18 fast-break points.

— Arizona had 31 missed shots against UNLV but finished with only three offensive rebounds and one was listed as a team rebound. Lauren Ware leads Arizona with 38 offensive boards this season but she had none against the Lady Rebels. Expect the Wildcats to be a lot more active getting second-chance opportunities in which they had none against UNLV.

— North Carolina’s guard-oriented team has forced all 30 of its opponents into double-digit turnovers and has forced 20-plus on 12 occasions this season. Opponents are averaging 18.9 turnovers per game.

— The Tar Heels have record 10 more or steals 12 times this season and have won every one of those games. Despite being the tallest player in the starting lineup at 6-1, Ustby leads North Carolina in steals averaging 1.7 a game.


Deja Kelly is coming off a 28-point performance against Stephen F. Austin (Andy Morales/

Deja Kelly, an All-ACC selection, is the most productive scorer for North Carolina averaging 16.3 points a game after her 28-point performance against Stephen F. Austin. North Carolina has balance, however, with five players who average at least 8.8 points a game. The Tar Heels’ 73.8 points a game ranks 30th in the nation.

— The Tar Heels have struggled from 3-point range shooting 31.5 percent, which ranks 132nd nationally. Eva Hodgson and Kelly are the biggest threats from beyond the arc making 95 of 259 (.376).

— North Carolina is active with its offensive rebounding averaging 14.5 a game. Then Tar Heels had 10 against Stephen F. Austin with four players tallying two each.

— Arizona’s pressuing “Arizona Defense” ranks first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (56.8 points a game), turnovers forced (19.0) and steals (10.5).

Sam Thomas’ defense was important against UNLV and it will be the same against North Carolina. She is looking to become only the second player in Arizona history to reach 200 career blocked shots and she is No. 3 in career steals in program history. She has 198 blocked shots (Shawntinice Polk is the record-holder with 222) after recording two emphatic ones against UNLV and 262 steals after having four against the Lady Rebels. Davellyn Whyte is No. 2 on the list with 266 steals.

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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