The sophomore forward has taken another big leap this year as one of the best players in the Pac-12.
A year ago, the Arizona Wildcats finished a mere 7-11 in Pac-12 Conference play and lost in the second round of the conference tournament to Oregon. This season, they improved to 12-6 in conference regular-season play and they earned a bye in the first round.
The Wildcats have spent the majority of this year in the AP top 25 rankings, and a big part of their successful season was due to the continued improvement of Cate Reese. Reese made an immediate impact in Tucson last season as a freshman.
She was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team a year ago, a year in which she also was a three-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. She started 37 games, which ended up being the most number of starts in school history for a freshman. She had the most double-doubles in the Pac-12 for a freshman and her 11.8 points per game and 6.8 rebounds were tops among freshmen.
Reese’s talent was apparent before she arrived at Arizona. She was a McDonald’s All-American out of Cypress Woods High School in Cypress, Texas, and the highest-ranked recruit (No.14 overall in the country) ever signed by the Wildcats.
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This season, her role on the team expanded, and she’s credited her understanding of the college game as helping her continue her strong play.
“I think I have more responsibility on the team, people are counting on me more,” Reese told High Post Hoops. “But also, I feel more calm playing and not as rushed. I think you can tell that I’ve improved on that from last year.”
Last month, Reese was named as a finalist for the Katrina McClain Award, an award given annually to the top power forward in the country. The other finalists include Baylor’s Lauren Cox, Drake’s Sara Rhine, Florida State’s Kiah Gillespie, LSU’s Ayanna Mitchell, Michigan’s Naz Hillmon, Oregon’s Ruthy Hebard, Princeton’s Bella Alarie, Texas’ Joyner Holmes, and Texas A&M’s N’dea Jones.
It’s a top honor for Reese who along with Hillmon, are the only underclassmen in a group full of seniors and one junior (Jones). She’s increased her scoring this season to 13.8 points per game albeit dropping in shooting a bit from 49.3 percent from the field to 47.8 percent. She’s also pulling down 7.7 rebounds per game.
Perhaps one the biggest jump in her game has been her ability to stretch the floor. She’s always been a strong inside player capable of scoring around the rim. But she’s worked on becoming a more versatile player offensively.
“Just being there for my teammates and doing what I’m supposed to do,” Reese said. “Scoring, getting boards, and just improving my three a little bit so I can be more effective on the perimeter shooting.”
In terms of her perimeter shooting, Reese only shot 30.0 percent from the three-point line. This season, she’s increased that to 36.7 percent, making her a real threat from the outside. She’s also displayed an ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays off the dribble.
Her added offensive repertoire, along with improved defense, is a big reason why Arizona head coach Adia Barnes believes Reese has been able to take that next step forward.
“She’s a completely different player,” Barnes said. “She’s consistently shooting the three, she’s finishing around the rim, she’s driving, she’s playing great defense, she’s a monster on the boards right now. She’s playing great and that’s why she’s won two Pac-12 player of the week honors.”
Reese was named conference Player of the Week twice in December and was the first player this season to win the award twice. Right around the time she won the awards, the Wildcats had lost senior forward Dominique McBryde to an ankle sprain.
McBryde has since returned to the lineup, but Barnes praised Reese for stepping up and helping Arizona go 5-1 in the six games McBryde missed.
“I think she’s stepping up since Dominique’s been out,” Barnes said. “That says a lot about who she is because if she didn’t step up, we don’t win these games.”
At the end of the regular season, Reese was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team. The Wildcats earned a bye in the first round of the conference tournament this past week and finished 1-1 with a win over Cal and a loss to Oregon.
In the two games, Reese put up 21.5 points per game while shooting 73 percent from the field. The 30 points she dropped on Cal were a career-best. Getting used to the college level was a big adjustment for her last season as a freshman, and although she’s been a top-notch scorer, she credits her improvement on the other end of the court as to how she’s been able to continue her growth.
“I would say getting used to the conference, this is not an easy conference,” Reese said. “My defense has improved so much from last year, I think that’s definitely helped me be more effective this season. I think working on my defense is one of the major things I learned from last year.”
The NCAA tournament has now been canceled, but wherever they would have been seeded, Reese was going to continue to play her role.
“Scoring, getting boards, and just improving my three a little bit so I can be more effective on my perimeter shooting,” Reese said. “Just being there for my teammates and doing what I’m supposed to do.”
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