A starting freshman guard for the third-seeded Huskies, McDonald got her first taste of NCAA tournament Saturday night in UW’s 91-63 first-round victory over Montana State before a crowd of 8,059 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
A year ago, Aarion McDonald was a high school senior watching on television from her Fresno, Calif., home as the Huskies made their magical march to the women’s Final Four.
Even then, even as his point guard of the future was thousands of miles away from the action, Washington coach Mike Neighbors knew McDonald was engaged with what was going on with the Huskies. He knew because when he would check his phone after those March Madness games, McDonald was consistently the second or third person who had sent him a text message.
“The first (message) would be from my mom,” Neighbors said. “The second was my daughter, and ‘Aari’ was third.”
Now a starting freshman guard for the third-seeded Huskies, McDonald got her first taste of NCAA tournament Saturday night in UW’s 91-63 first-round victory over Montana State before a crowd of 8,059 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
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“Last year, watching them was so much fun. It was so exciting. It’s crazy that I’m actually part of the team now,” she said. “To experience my first NCAA tournament, it’s amazing. It’s a blessing.”
She was everything Neighbors expected her to be Saturday — an abundant source of energy who was aggressive and took care of the basketball. Her line: 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists, three steals and one turnover in 28 minutes.
“Anytime we needed a big-time energy lift, she was the one who provided it,” Neighbors said. “She’s become a crowd favorite pretty fast.”
UW stars Kelsey Plum (29 points) and Chantel Osahor (16 points, 19 rebounds) did what they do. But Neighbors said the Huskies will need a third consistent contributor if they hope to make another deep run this month, and McDonald looks like a strong candidate for that role.
“We always joke about it: If you don’t put your best defensive player on Plum, she’s going to get a thousand (points),” Neighbors said. “And then you’ve got to put your second one on ‘Nat’ (Natalie Romeo). So you’re telling me now every night out the third best defender is going to be guarding Aari? That’s a long day (for the opposing team), and I thought she was great tonight. Great from start to finish.”