The vision of Cate Reese crying on the bench, consoled by assistant Salvo Coppa, late in Sunday’s 77-64 loss to Maryland in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 game at College Park, Md., caused tears for many.
Reese’s emotions were shared by fans of Arizona and women’s college basketball in general because Reese and fellow fifth-year senior Shaina Pellington meant so much to both in recent years.
Reese and Pellington, along with All-American Aari McDonald, were cornerstones of Arizona’s rise to national prominence under coach Adia Barnes with the 2021 Final Four victory over UConn and the national championship appearance, a symbol that the women’s game was gaining more parity.
“It’s been a great five years,” Reese said, sobbing during the postgame press conference. “I don’t even know how to feel right now, sad but happy for all that I was able to accomplish at Arizona with my teammates and with Adia. Unfortunately, only one team wins at the end and we just weren’t that team.”
.@cate_reese with a stellar @ArizonaWBB career, one of the greatest.
Arizona career charts:
No. 5 – 1,951 points
No. 3 – 759 made FGs
No. 2 – 961 rebounds
No. 4 – 22 double-doubles
No. 2 – 153 starts
Congratulations to Reese on being such a success and best wishes to her. pic.twitter.com/1n2aXI6zkf
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) March 19, 2023
Pellington came to Arizona after two turbulent years at Oklahoma from 2017-19 during which she claimed racial insensitivity by coach Gioya Coale and a general lack of support for black and LGBT athletes at the school.
Coale suspended Pellington during her sophomore season and kept her on the bench after that suspension, telling the media that she played those who practiced and played hard.
“I was a transfer from Oklahoma and came from a tough situation,” Pellington said Sunday, holding back tears. “Adia was one of the ones who took a chance on me and it’s something I’m gonna forever be grateful for.
“I feel like I developed a lot as a player but most importantly as a person and I owe a lot to Adia, the coaching staff and just the environment in Tucson. I do want to say thank you to everybody who was patient with me and encouraged my progress. That’s something that I’m never going to forget. This might be the end of our collegiate careers with the U of A but we’re always going to be family. That’s something I’m going to always hold dear to my heart.”
Barnes acknowledges she took a chance on Pellington “but I’m happy I did.”
“I think everybody deserves a second chance,” she added. “I think everybody goes through different things. I’m the right coach for some people. I’m not the right coach for everybody.
“I just accepted Shaina for who she was – the good, the bad and the ugly. I can tell you that Shaina changed tremendously in the years we had her. … I love her heart. I love her work ethic. I love the person that she has become and the leader she has become. It’s gratifying for me because I can see the change.”
The change included Pellington developing a passion again about basketball, which has included her participating with the Canadian national team in the FIBA Women’s World Cup in late September.
“I saw her happy the last couple years; she wasn’t happy when she first came,” Barnes said. “She didn’t love basketball. She found her passion back, and as a coach, I’m happy to say that, and she’s getting a degree. She was not going to be on my clock and not get a degree. She did that and accomplished a lot of things.”
I gave everything I had to this program…. I wish we could’ve done more this season and am so sad that this is the end. Thank you to everyone who welcomed me as a little freshman. Who supported me through it all. Thank you to the community who rallied behind womens basketball. ❤️
— C8 (@cate_reese) March 20, 2023
Reese was Arizona’s first McDonald’s All-American to join the program and she stuck with the program despite the Wildcats going 6-24 in 2017-18, her senior year at Cypress (Texas) High School.
“Cate took a chance on Arizona when we were awful,” Barnes said. “We were probably 300 in the RPI. We weren’t a winning program. I’m sure she scratched her head when she watched us win six games that year.
“But she wanted to come to Arizona and do something special with us and she’s done that. … Just to watch her grow as a woman — she got into business school, she just carried herself well, she’s a great student. … Just the way she role-modeled our program, I’m really happy to watch that.”
ASU transfer Jade Loville is also a five-year senior who played her last college game. Lauren Fields, Esmery Martinez and Helena Pueyo are four-year seniors who have another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 restrictions in 2019-20.
Arizona, the No. 7 seed, rallied from a 12-point deficit against No. 2 Maryland at the start of the second quarter and took a four-point lead before halftime, but that’s as good as it got for the Wildcats.
The Terrapins (27-6) pulled away in a disastrous third quarter for Arizona (22-10) and advanced to former Arizona standout Brenda Frese’s 11th Sweet 16 in 21 years as Maryland’s coach.
The game featured two former Arizona standouts — Frese and Barnes — coaching against each other. Frese holds a 4-0 record against her alma mater with three of the wins at College Park.
Wildcat Nation, your support this season means everything to us ❤️ Can’t wait to be back in McKale with you next year#MadeForIt x #LeaveALegacy pic.twitter.com/pB3FN0MeLF
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) March 19, 2023
Arizona was outscored 29-9 in the third quarter, allowing Maryland to make 11 of 14 shots from the field while it made only 3-of-15 shots. The Wildcats committed more turnovers (five) than the amount of shots they made.
“They were getting the ball out really fast before we could even set up our press,” Barnes reasoned for Maryland’s dominance in the third quarter. “They were getting up the floor really fast and we knew that they would do that. We were prepared for that, and I thought we handled that better in the second quarter. I think the third quarter just wasn’t on point.”
Diamond Miller, who Barnes coached with the 2021 USA Basketball AmeriCup Team, had 13 of her 24 points in the third quarter.
“Your All-American does what she’s supposed to do,” Frese said. “I thought the third quarter was ‘Miller Time’ coming out 9-0 to start third. Like we’ve seen Diamond do so many times in this building, she just willed her team. I thought it started with her defense, the impact she was making there to her offense. They had no answer for her.”
Part of that was Martinez sitting on the bench with three fouls for more than 5 minutes in the third quarter.
Pellington and Martinez each picked up their third foul early in the third quarter and that proved to be the turning point.
Pellington sat from 6:57 left in the third quarter when she got her third foul until she re-entered with 2:22 left in the period.
Martinez was out from 6:06 remaining in the third quarter until 1:38 was left in the period.
In that span from 6:57 to 1:38 left in the third quarter, Arizona went from trailing 39-33 to being down 57-40.
“For us, we are at our best when we’re getting stops and we’re able to run,” Barnes said. “We were killing them at times in transition. They could not guard our transition.
“But if you’re not getting stops and you’re not getting steals, you’re not running in transition. I thought because we were not getting stops and they were shooting 78 percent — I don’t think we’ve ever allowed a team to shoot 78 percent in a quarter — but that’s rough because we weren’t able to run. We are then going against their press every time which slowed us down and that made it difficult for us.”
Arizona did not get closer than 13 points after Maryland took as much as a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Reese had 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and Pellington finished with 13 points and five rebounds.
Martinez had eight points and 13 rebounds.
Arizona’s shaky start against Maryland was in stark contrast to how it scored 28 points in the first quarter in Friday’s 75-62 win over West Virginia in the first-round game.
The Wildcats trailed 17-8 at the end of the first quarter against Maryland. A 3-pointer by Brinae Alexander to start the second quarter put the Terrapins up by 12.
That’s when Arizona’s defense clamped down and freshman Paris Clark showed why she was a McDonald’s All-American.
Arizona took advantage of Maryland converting only one field goal in more than 6 minutes to go on a 16-5 run, cutting the lead to 25-24 with 3:34 left in the first half.
Clark, who had eight points in the second quarter, converted two baskets in transition and fed Reese for another layup in a 9-2 run that gave Arizona a 33-29 lead with 1:12 remaining in the half.
“I think the sky is the limit for Paris,” Pellington said. “She came in and gave us a fire that we desperately needed. That’s something special. Not a lot of players can do that, especially as a freshman.”
Maryland cut the lead to 33-32 going into halftime.
Arizona outscored the Terrapins 25-15 in the second quarter behind 63.2 percent shooting from the field with most of the shots in transition.
Also in the second quarter, Clark had two of Arizona’s six assists and the Wildcats committed only two turnovers after having seven in the first quarter.
Reese had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and Martinez had four points and eight rebounds in the first half. Pellington had six points, four rebounds and two assists at that time.
Unfortunately for Arizona, the game changed drastically in the third quarter, but that stretch is just a blip on the screen of Barnes’ seven seasons at Arizona and the highly successful careers of Reese and Pellington.
Shaina Pellington: “This might be the end of our collegiate careers but we’re always going to be family. I think that’s something I’m always gonna hold dear to my heart.”
Pellington had 864 points, 199 assists and 112 steals in her three years at UA after two years at Oklahoma. pic.twitter.com/NoHwVkpsQd
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) March 20, 2023
Barnes’ family atmosphere that she has developed at Arizona dwarfs everything, including a Round of 32 defeat.
One of the East coast reporters was surprised Reese and Pellington referred to Barnes as “Adia” instead of “Coach” or “Coach Barnes” on the interview podium.
“I think it’s funny whenever I go into interviews, I always debate in my head if I am going to call her ‘Coach Barnes’ or ‘Adia,'” Reese said. “‘Coach Barnes’ never sounds right so I normally always go with ‘Adia.’
“It’s just the culture that we have at Arizona. We see her as a person. She’s not just our coach. … That’s one of the most important relationships to build. You’re around your coach 24/7, so being able to bond on a different level, not just player and coach, is important.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com 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 CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, 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.