Skip to main content

Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Cate Reese stepping up and working through the to-do list

Jan 31, 2020

Cate Reese, the first McDonald’s All-American to be recruited to the University of Arizona program, came to Tucson for very specific reasons.

She wanted, first and foremost, to win. The sophomore forward wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament. She wanted part of building a program that would be embraced by the community, both on-campus and off.

And, in the middle of her sophomore season, she is quickly checking things off that to-do list.

The Wildcats are the No. 16 team in the country, the program’s highest ranking since 2000. They are 16-3 on the season and tied for second in the tough Pac-12 at 5-3. They are drawing some of the biggest crowds in the conference to the McKale Center, including the more than 10,000 who showed up last weekend to watch Arizona defeat rival Arizona State and sweep the series for the first time in two decades.

The thing is, Reese, the Cypress, Texas native, doesn’t seem that surprised by most of it.

“I guess I’m surprised that we were ranked so early in the season,” Reese said. “And to see our home crowds increasing every game, it’s exciting to play in that atmosphere.”
But Reese said she knew that when the Wildcats won the WNIT last year, even better days lay ahead. She prepared for them.

“I worked on my perimeter game, I worked on my defense and I think you can see that when you watch me play this year,” Reese said.

Reese, who has 13 career double-doubles, ranks second on the Wildcats team in scoring at 14.2 points a game (13th in the conference), shooting 49 percent from the floor and is pulling down 7.9 rebounds a game. She has scored at least 20 points four times this season, including a career-high 26 points at Washington State on January 17.

On the defensive end, she is averaging 1.5 steals a game. 

Reese, who has been named Pac-12 Player of the Week twice this season so far, is a complement to the scoring of Aari McDonald, a reliable option when defenses focus on the Wildcats’ start.
Reese said that when she talked with head coach Adia Barnes heading into this season, her coach implored her to “be impactful.”

“She wanted me to make an impact in the paint and from the perimeter, and to be a more vocal leader,” Reese said. “I knew I would be stepping into a more difficult role than last year when I was a freshman. Last year, I was just learning a lot.”

Still, Reese, who started all 37 games for the Wildcats last season, was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week three times last season and made the conference’s All-Freshman team.

Barnes said a lot of the things she needed from Reese was off the court.

“I need her to turn into a leader, to separate herself and to be a voice off the court,” Barnes said. “I wanted to empower her more. And she’s done a really good job. She was really immersed in our offseason program. It was fun to see.”

Barnes said she has seen the improvement of Reese’s perimeter game and her upgraded defense.

“She’s been stronger inside, driving harder,” Barnes said. “It makes a difference.”

Reese said she will be disappointed if her team doesn’t make it to the NCAA Tournament this season.

“It was one of the selling points of coming to Arizona,” Reese said.

And perhaps another thing to check off the to-do list.

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, San Francisco Chronicle, The Athletic and AOL Fanhouse. She was has won several awards, including the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award, presented annually to a member of the media who has best displayed commitment to advancing the role of the media in women's basketball. For previous Michelle Smith features on, visit the archives page.