Who will be the best guard in the Pac-12 next season?
As a redshirt junior, Arizona combo guard Aari McDonald is a finalist for the Wade Trophy. She’s an All-American, according to the Associated Press and the USBWA. She’s a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.
She’s also on her way back to Arizona for her senior season.
McDonald is a draft-eligible junior who started her career at Washington and sat out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer rules. She has been on the WNBA draft radar since before the 2019-20 season started, stirring up even more discussion after choosing to take part in Arizona’s senior day celebration.
Most mock drafts projected McDonald to be a borderline first-rounder if she had entered the draft this season. Those may have been pessimistic projections, though. League sources say that the Dallas Wings had considered taking her with the No. 5 or No. 7 pick in the April 17 draft.
There were questions about her readiness even with such lofty interest. McDonald missed two games and played the other four with a heavily braced left leg to end the season. PJ Brown of the Arizona Daily Star reported that the undisclosed injury was actually a stress fracture.
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With the return of their star, the Wildcats could easily find themselves starting the season in the Top 10, a place they haven’t been since Arizona head coach Adia Barnes was a player. After the disappointment of missing their first chance to host the tournament in decades, that might take a bit of the sting off.
McDonald averaged 24.1 points per game her sophomore season, ending the year third in the country in scoring. This season, she had more help and her scoring dropped to 20.6 ppg. That was still good enough for first in the Pac-12.
McDonald also led the conference in steals with 2.5 per game after tying Minyon Moore with 2.6 spg last season. Along with her relentless position defense, it was enough to grab Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors from both the league’s coaches and media.
Barnes had been hinting at the return for the past week. On March 23, she tweeted a screenshot of a photo from the Arizona Daily Star that had the caption, “Future looks bright for Arizona Wildcats — especially if Aari McDonald comes back for senior season.”
Barnes’ message? “The future is so bright!!”
Approximately 90 minutes before McDonald announced her return, her coach tweeted another cryptic message that was similar to posts she has made prior to other big announcements.
For Arizona fans, it was certainly a good day. The WNBA will have to wait another year.