Yes, Adia Barnes admitted these are tough times for her and the University of Arizona women’s basketball program. She’s also hopeful – very, in fact –things will get better in the future.
“It’s hard,” said Barnes, the former UA all-American player who is finishing up her second season as the head coach.
Seasons where there are few wins – just six so far with two left in the regular season – tend to wear on a coach, especially one who is used to winning as a player and an assistant.
Figure this: As a player (8-0) and later a coach Barnes had never lost to Arizona State, until last year. And, this season Arizona has been swept after Sunday’s game with the Sun Devils. Over all, she is 1-3 as a UA coach vs. ASU.
The Sun Devils won 69-45 on Sunday afternoon, after jumping out to a 7-0 lead. It got so bad for UA, ASU out performed UA in every single statistical category except blocks and that was a tie at two each.
This rivalry this year was one-sided. When asked about the rivalry, Barnes said she “had never lost this much in her life.”
“Never losing to them was a pride thing,” she said. “With us and where we are at, we’re just not there yet.”
She does want to bring to Arizona what ASU coach Charli Turner-Thorne has – a winning tradition.
It’s just one of the many things Barnes is trying to do, all the while trying to establish her “culture” of winning.
“We don’t know how to win yet,” Barnes said on Sunday after the loss. “We don’t know what that looks like; we don’t know what it feels like. We haven’t won enough. The times where you are down four or you have a run we don’t know how to put the pedal to the metal or whatever. We just can’t do that yet. That’s part of the process.”
What she has started – it began last year – is the change of culture. And that’s the aforementioned desire to win.
“Culture is everything,” she said in a recent interview with AllsportsTucson.com. “You work hard and you are bought in. It would be more important for me to lose every game this year and not sacrifice the culture than to win 10 games and sacrifice the culture.”
She sees progress despite the record (6-21) and the losing streaks. Arizona is currently on a four-game slide after having gone through a four-game losing streak before beating Washington on Feb. 4 in a game.
Losing hasn’t been easy for anyone.
“We’re not thinking about wins and losses,” said freshman Sam Thomas, who a team-high 11 points in the loss. “We’re trying to get better.”
How has Barnes handled it?
“Very well,” Thomas said. “The best she can. She’s never put her head down or not encouraged us. We keep our heads up.”
Barnes has always had the belief in her women. Earlier this month, against her former team – she coached five years at Washington before taking the job here – she saw what her Cats are capable of, even if they didn’t play all that well.
“I saw the fight in them; they were not going to lose that game,” she said. “And they had extra motivation.
“I was happy for the win. I had colleagues calling me telling me to celebrate the win because wins are so damn hard. And, these girls have worked their ass off. I have to celebrate it more. We put in a lot of hard work.”
Yes, these are baby-step moments for a program looking for anything positive. That is very apparent.
“There are so many positives I’m getting from it,” she said of the season. “They are a great group of young women. They are getting a positive experience and we’ve changed the culture in a year and a half. And we have a lot of talent coming in.”
Those are the real positives: a young team is gaining experience and it is going to get help. Three very good transfers are sitting out this season and it has what is considered the best recruiting class in the women’s program’s history. It’s a top five class. They will have more depth and more size, something lacking in each this season.
But, it’s still going to be a work in progress.
“It’s easy from the outside looking in with people saying you have some great talent coming in but it doesn’t mean you’re going to win,” she said. “(Still) no matter the talent, you have to think you are going to win.”
Just as she does every time her Wildcats suit up. She can never live without hope – and persistence.
And, oh, yes, patience.
She said she had none, but “I’m gaining more. I’m a mom now and coaching has helped with that. It’s hard to not want to win right now.
“It takes four to five years (to rebuild) but I’m not willing to wait four or five. I know everyone says that, but I think we can do it a little faster. But our league is really good.”