This was not what coach Adia Barnes envisioned against No. 6 Stanford but the Wildcats can use their 78-48 loss Sunday as an example from the talented and well-coached Cardinal of how to execute in an anticipated game.
The Cardinal (14-1, 4-0 Pac-12) knew it would get a charged Arizona team, which is off to one of its best starts in program history under Barnes at 13-3 and 3-2. Stanford coach Tara Vanderveer prepared her team for All-Pac-12 shoo-in Aari McDonald with constant switching of players defensively on her through Arizona’s screens.
“Aari McDonald is a terrific player,” Vanderveer told the Associated Press. “We tried to guard by committee and have a lot of people on her.”
McDonald, who entered scoring at least 30 points in there consecutive games, finished with 17 points on 6-of-22 shooting from the field. The Wildcats struggled from the floor as team, shooting 27.4 percent (17 of 62), including 23.8 percent from 3-point range. Arizona had only five assists as a team.
Alanna Smith led the Cardinal with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Stanford outrebounded Arizona 46-32. Stanford finished with eight blocked shots, seven by Smith.
“I think they just made (McDonald) work really hard,” Barnes said. “They had three people in the paint. They forced her to shoot, a lot of times, into Alanna Smith’s hands. They weren’t really letting her go around, they were backing. … They made Aari really work and take tough shots.
“A lot of times you saw other people cutting through the lane, they weren’t even looking at them. They were looking at Aari coming off stuff. That’s what’s going to happen. She was leading the country in scoring. She is one of the best guards in the country so there’s going to be a lot of tension but we have to find a way to get two or three more people to score.”
No other Arizona player finished in double-figure scoring. McDonald took 22 shots and her eight teammates who played combined for 40 attempts.
Barnes said the Wildcats missed the “intensity and mentality” of senior forward Tee Tee Starks, who did not play because of headache problems.
The task does not get easier with Arizona traveling to No. 10 Oregon State and No. 5 Oregon next weekend.
“It’s not ideal to get our butts kicked before going into Oregon but what are you’re going to do? This is the Pac-12. You’ve got to have amnesia,” Barnes said. “We have to get better in a lot of areas.”
Barnes mentioned improvements must be made with the offensive flow and to have more contributors than McDonald.
“Learning lessons … there’s a lot we can learn from this game,” Barnes said. “Am I upset? Yes. We just have to get better. We haven’t arrived. … We’re not ready to be a Pac-12 champion yet, but we’re ready to be a lot better and make steps.”
One significant believer in Barnes and Arizona is Vanderveer, who told her, “I’ll cheer for you every other game but this one,” the Wildcats’ third-year coach said.
“She’s complimentary of what we’re doing with the program,” Barnes added.
Stanford made a statement early, outscoring Arizona 23-4 in the second quarter to take control of the game with a 44-16 halftime lead.
Coast to coast.@ArizonaWBB's Aari McDonald has 17 points.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) January 13, 2019
Arizona could not find its offensive rhythm from the start against Stanford’s man-to-man, switching defenses. The Wildcats tried to free up McDonald with double screens on top of the key but the Cardinal were quick to defend with their switches.
The Cardinal were patient offensively, especially in the pivotal second quarter, connecting on 75 percent (9 of 12) of their shots, including 5 of 6 from beyond the arc. DiJonai Carrington, who finished with 19 points, made all three of her 3-point attempts in the quarter.
Sam Thomas contributed nine points and four rebounds in the game for the Wildcats.
— Kelsey Plum (@Kelseyplum10) January 13, 2019
Barnes mentioned that Arizona can learn from playing the Cardinal by getting a close view of how they operated.
Freshman guard Bryce Nixon, who played 12 minutes, said she took from playing the Cardinal that “their defense is really good. They shot the ball really well.”
Those elements are the basics of basketball but difficult to achieve without diligence, which Vanderveer’s teams have always shown.