Arizona Women's Basketball

Arizona Wildcats in WNIT Sweet 16 After Winning Two Postseason Games for First Time Since 1998


In a bold yet endearing display, Arizona’s Aari McDonald, Cate Reese and Destiny Graham took the public-address announcer’s mic after Sunday night’s 64-48 win over Pacific in the second round of the WNIT at McKale Center.

McDonald, Reese and Graham combined for 36 points and 12 assists to go along with a nice public-relations move with McDonald telling the 3,534 in attendance they are the greatest fans in the country and Reese asking them to bring their friends and family Thursday when the Wildcats (20-13) host Idaho (22-11) in the Sweet 16 game at McKale Center.

Reese told them the game was at 6 p.m. It’s actually at 6:30. She may want an early-arriving crowd.

Aari McDonald flirted with a triple-double as she scored 20 points, tied her career-high with 12 rebounds and dished out seven assists. McDonald has 28 20-point games this season. (Arizona Athletics photo)

Graham, a senior, then yelled, “We love you!” like she was a singer ending a rock concert. The crowd, which rose to its feet a few times during the game, gave the atmosphere that kind of feel.

“It was good for me to tell the fans how much I appreciated them,” McDonald said. “(The turnout) has been amazing (for the first and second round games). We’ve been promoting a lot of fans to come. They’ve been doing a really good job of getting tickets, even alumni are buying tickets so we really appreciate that.

“Just having the fans rally behind us. That’s motivation. That gets us going.”

TOP 10 WNIT CROWDS THIS POSTSEASON

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Arizona has reached 20 wins for the first time since 2010-11 and the Wildcats have won two postseason games for the first time since 1998, when they won two NCAA tournament games at McKale before losing to UConn in the Sweet 16 at Dayton, Ohio.

Adia Barnes, a former standout herself at Arizona with her name hanging from the rafters, knows what it means for talented players to reach out to supporters.

“I had them talk and I thought it would be a good thing to thank the crowd,” the third-year coach said. “People appreciate that when you have your best players out there saying, ‘Thank you, you’re the best fans in America.’ I think it’s meaningful, and they don’t have a problem doing it.

“They’re not shy. Aari acts shy some times but she’s not. I think that’s incentive to just want to come back and feel bought in and embrace the team. So I think it’s important.”

Aari acts shy some times.

Try telling that to Pacific or Arizona’s opponents in their 33 games this season.

McDonald’s 20 points against the Tigers gives her 809 this season, allowing her to join Khalid Reeves (848 points in 1993-94) as the only Arizona players — men and women — to eclipse 800 points in a season.

She also was the game’s leading rebounder with 12 — tying a career-high — despite being 5-foot-7. She came close to a triple-double with seven assists. And if Arizona kept tabs on diving for loose balls, McDonald would be the leader without question. That’s T.J. McConnell-like.

“I’ve been playing like this since I started playing basketball, so I just sacrifice a lot for my teammates,” McDonald said. “I do whatever it takes to get the win. Whatever it takes to get the ball to my teammates, I’m down for it.”

And as far as McDonald being shy? Yes, she actually is, but not on the basketball court or in close circles with friends. I recall covering a player like that when on the beat for the 1996-97 national title team under Lute OlsonMike Bibby.

“I am shy. Like around large groups, I am shy but one-on-one, I’m fine,” McDonald said.

McDonald made more history by becoming only one of four different Pac-12 players to reach 800 points in a season. Stanford sisters Chiney Ogwumike and Nnemkadi Ogwumike and Washington’s Kelsey Plum are the others.

Here is that elite list:

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“(McDonald’s) a great player but I could have never dreamed about her scoring 800 points in a season,” said Barnes, who recruited Plum and McDonald to Washington before coming to Arizona in 2016. “She’s hard to guard, and remember, that’s a lot of points with three, four or five people sagging on her.

“We’re not a great shooting team. We’ll get better next year. You see that when she drives the lane, there are three, four or five people collapsing and they’re forcing us to shoot outside … Aari is able to do that despite that.”

A testament to Barnes’ coaching ability, Arizona is more balanced than earlier in the season when it was McDonald and everybody else. Reese, who had 16 points with five rebounds, and Dominique McBryde, who returned from an injury to score 11 points, stepped up big against Pacific. Sam Thomas, a sophomore, and freshman Semaj Smith also each had eight rebounds helping Arizona control the boards 46-36.

“Our big thing with our team is ‘Leave a legacy,'” Barnes said. “That’s one of our things — hash-tag Leave a Legacy — and they’re starting to do that. I just want them to keep going and feeling good. They want to win the WNIT.

“That’s what our goal is and we’re trying to get there.”

2019 WNIT RESULTS AND SCHEDULES

AllSportsTucson.com

Access full bracket at this link.

Arizona’s Quad

FIRST ROUND

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SECOND ROUND

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SWEET 16

Thursday

Idaho at Arizona, 6:30 p.m.
Pepperdine at Wyoming, 5:30 p.m.

Quad 2

FIRST ROUND

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SECOND ROUND

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SWEET 16

Thursday

TCU at Arkansas, 5 p.m.
Butler at Cincinnati, 4 p.m.

Quad 3
Opposite of Arizona

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SECOND ROUND

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SWEET 16

Wednesday

Northwestern at West Virginia, 4 p.m.

Thursday

Western Kentucky at Ohio, 4 p.m.

Quad 4
Opposite of Arizona

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SECOND ROUND

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SWEET 16

Tuesday

Georgetown at Providence, 4 p.m.

Thursday

Virginia Tech at James Madison, 4 p.m.


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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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