Arizona Women's Basketball

Arizona Wildcats’ Party On to WNIT Elite Eight Sunday at McKale Against Wyoming

Brandon Randolph danced on the big screen late in the game with Arizona enough ahead to think about an Elite Eight appearance.

Sean Miller chummed it up with Arizona president Robert C. Robbins.

They were there … to cheer on the Arizona women’s team to advance to the WNIT Elite Eight amid 6,307 fans in McKale, a party scene with, yes, a well-attended Zona Zoo student section. A sight to behold — college-aged students (as many males as females) — dancing at their seats late in the Wildcats’ 68-60 win over Idaho on Thursday night.

The party at McKale starts again 2 p.m. Sunday when Arizona (21-12) hosts Wyoming (25-8).

The swollen lip in which sophomore guard Aari McDonald faced the media with after the win over Idaho never hurt so good.

McDonald had 18 points to increase her school-record season total to 827 (which ranks fourth in Pac-12 history). She also had 11 assists, five rebounds and a blocked shot.

Her busted lip occurred from an accidental collision with an Idaho player, resulting in a bloody mouth.

“It hurt a lot, honestly,” McDonald said. “I thought she knocked my teeth out but luckily it’s just a swollen lip, she cut me in the inside so I’m fine. It could have been worse.”

Pac-12 women’s hoops season scoring leaders

[table “” not found /]

On a night like Thursday, nothing could have been better for Adia Barnes’ effort to make women’s basketball relevant in Tucson.

“I’m happy. I’m excited that our team is playing good basketball. I’m excited that we’re fun to watch,” said the third-year coach, who has returned to her alma mater in grand style after having the best career of a women’s player at Arizona.

“I’m happy and grateful for all the fans. I’m grateful for all the support from the city.”

The 6,307 in attendance is the largest crowd in the WNIT this season. Combined with Arizona’s other two games in the WNIT — against Idaho State (3,265 attendance) and Pacific (3,534) — the Wildcats have drawn 13,106 this postseason.

TOP 10 WNIT CROWDS THIS POSTSEASON

[table “” not found /]

In an NCAA tournament second round game, No. 1 seed Baylor (33-1) beat Cal the other day in front of 5,367 fans — about 1,000 fewer than what watched the game at McKale on Thursday night.

Barnes told the McKale crowd that she wants 7,000 fans for Sunday’s game against Wyoming. If the Wildcats (21-13) achieve that total, it would surpass the 6,694 that watched No. 1 seed Notre Dame (32-3) defeat Michigan State in an NCAA tournament second round game earlier this week.

“It’s amazing to walk out there and see the whole lower bowl full,” Barnes said of McKale’s atmosphere. “It’s better than some (NCAA) tournament teams are getting right now. I’m excited. I love it.”

She loves it even more because her team will not have to travel to Laramie, Wyo., on Friday to face Wyoming for a quick turnaround game Saturday. In her press conference Wednesday, Barnes was concerned that Arizona would play at Wyoming if both teams won in Round 3.

She said Arizona is hosting the game because athletic director Dave Heeke made an offer the WNIT “could not refuse or resist. I like that — an offer you can’t say no to.”

“It was going to be leave tomorrow and play on Saturday, so that quick turnaround, and you have to go to Denver and bus (129 miles to Laramie),” Barnes said. “And that’s a really hard place to play so I like this hard place to play (McKale) and I like it with our crowd.”

Barnes said she did not know the amount of Heeke’s offer to the WNIT.

“If it’s something you can’t refuse, it’s a lot of money,” she said with a wide smile. “That shows that they’re supporting and they believe in us and what we’re doing and they’re putting money into it.

“So they are investing in us and I think that’s a big thing. Now the city is … and that’s a great thing. It’s great momentum and I want us to feed off of that.”

What made Barnes even more happy was the balance Arizona showed with McDonald making only 1 of 9 shots from 3-point range against Idaho.

Three other players scored in double figures — Cate Reese with 14 (12 of which came in the first half), Sam Thomas with 13 points and Tee Tee Starks with 11.

Thomas had a personal-best six steals and blocked two shots.

“I was tired, I’ll tell you that, very tired,” she said with a laugh. “I was trying to do what I needed to do for my team. I knew they had 3-point shooters, so I tried to be everywhere to stop them from penetrating and kicking out.”

The resiliency of McDonald, Thomas and the Wildcats was never more apparent after Idaho cut their lead to 41-39 with 2:47 left in the third quarter. Could you imagine if Arizona fell flat, losing to Idaho, in front of such a large crowd after all the marketing and promotional work put it into getting the students involved? That could have set the program back.

Instead, Arizona responded strongly with a 16-0 run to pull away to a 57-39 lead with 6:07 left. McDonald scored half of her team’s points in that stretch, including a pivotal basket on a tip-in at the buzzer at the end of the third quarter.

The Aari-zona Wildcats are on to potentially more fun Sunday.

“It’s amazing,” Thomas said. “We’re drawing a great crowd. Everyone’s stepping their game up. We’re all growing.

“We’re hoping to keep going and continue this journey.”

2019 WNIT RESULTS AND SCHEDULES

AllSportsTucson.com

Access full bracket at this link.

Arizona’s Quad

FIRST ROUND

[table “” not found /]

SECOND ROUND

[table “” not found /]

THIRD ROUND

[table “” not found /]

QUARTERFINAL

Sunday

Wyoming at Arizona, 2 p.m.

Quad 2

FIRST ROUND

[table “” not found /]

SECOND ROUND

[table “” not found /]

THIRD ROUND
[table “” not found /]

QUARTERFINAL

Sunday

Cincinnati at TCU, 11 a.m.

Quad 3
Opposite of Arizona

[table “” not found /]

SECOND ROUND

[table “” not found /]

THIRD ROUND
[table “” not found /]

QUARTERFINAL

Saturday

Ohio at Northwestern, 4 p.m.

Quad 4
Opposite of Arizona

[table “” not found /]

SECOND ROUND

[table “” not found /]

THIRD ROUND

[table “” not found /]

QUARTERFINAL

Sunday

Georgetown at James Madison, 11 a.m.


FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!

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.

To Top