“This is what we talked about,” McDonald said of the conversations that had led to her transfer. “It’s all coming full circle.”
The transfer, however, meant that McDonald had to sit out a year. A year of playing on the scout team, able to show all of her teammates — but not outsiders who had overlooked her — what she could do. Arizona forward Sam Thomas was a freshman during McDonald’s first season at Arizona, and when she first met McDonald, she was struck by how quiet she was. “She didn’t say anything at all,” Thomas said.
On the court, it was a different story. Barnes would tell her team to defend McDonald in practice. It proved nearly impossible.
“We’re trying to work on our defense, and Aari’s just scoring and scoring,” Thomas said. “We were like, ‘How are we supposed to work on our defense when we can’t stop her?’”
That season, Arizona went 6-24. The next season, McDonald’s first competing for the Wildcats, they won 24 games and the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. She scored 890 points that season, breaking the program’s single-season scoring record set by her coach, Barnes. That energy, which McDonald says is the product of the conditioning that she prioritizes above almost everything else, became infectious.
“She’s always on 10,” Thomas said. “She never, ever, ever gets tired in a game — which is crazy, because I get tired just looking at her.”
In McDonald’s three years playing for Arizona, she has set numerous records and received as many accolades, most recently being named the Pac-12 player of the year and sharing the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Award. That the Wildcats have managed so many tough wins in the tournament is, her teammates say, a testament to McDonald’s impact.