Arizona Women's Basketball

Arizona Wildcats Keep Rolling With Goal of 10,000 Fans Against TCU in WNIT Semifinals


Aari McDonald started as a freshman in the Sweet 16 with Washington only two years ago when the Huskies were rolling, come off a Final Four appearance the season before.

McDonald was there in 2016-17 when Washington won 29 games and averaged 3,980 fans a game at the Alaska Airlines Arena.

Now she is here, at Arizona as a sophomore All-American candidate, playing in front of 7,717 loud fans today at McKale Center in a WNIT quarterfinal game. The Wildcats (22-13) routed Wyoming 67-45 and they host TCU (24-10) in a semifinal game Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

TOP 10 WNIT CROWDS THIS POSTSEASON

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McDonald told the crowd after the win today that “we need 10,000” fans for the game against the Horned Frogs. That’s not being greedy. That’s being realistic, indicating the direction of this program under Adia Barnes.

McDonald followed Barnes, the coach who recruited her to Washington, to Arizona after Barnes came to her alma mater the same season McDonald was a freshman with the Huskies.

I asked McDonald if she has the same feeling now as what she experienced at Washington two years ago.

“I think it’s similar because the fans know what we can do,” McDonald said after scoring 25 points in the win over Wyoming. “Everybody’s coming on. Of course, we had great players like Kelsey (Plum) and Chantel (Osahor). They were like All-Americans (at Washington).

“It’s just similar here. Fans know what we can do now. They know we’re a talented team, we’re making a run and we’re creating history this year.”

Aari McDonald scored 25 points, giving her 852 this season, the most for a men’s or women’s player at Arizona (Arizona Athletics photo)

Pac-12 women season scoring leaders

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The fans know because they are coming out to support Barnes’ program, one in which she has labored in for seven years including her three years as a head coach and four as a player from 1994-95 to 1997-98.

When Barnes led Arizona to NCAA tournament games in 1998, the crowd that showed up for the second round game at McKale Center against Virginia was 4,693. That number of fans were in McKale today probably more than a half-hour before the 2 p.m. tipoff.

Barnes saw then what Arizona could become. She is finally experiencing now that women’s basketball at Arizona can reach a higher level with sustained support. Through the four WNIT games at McKale, a total of 20,823 fans have shown up.

Remember, this is the WNIT, not the NCAA tournament.

“This is better, number-wise, it’s better,” Barnes said comparing this experience to when she played. “It felt like a men’s basketball game feels here. I thought it would take a long time to get there.

“It’s awesome. It’s awesome for the city. It’s tremendous momentum for us for next year. It’s helping us win games. … It is a big difference between playing in front of 2,000 people instead of 8,000. … It is hard for other teams to come here. … This is the best environment I’ve seen at Arizona.”

She went on to say that the deep dive into the WNIT experience for the players and fans — instead of an early flameout in the NCAA tournament at this stage of the program — can “cause an avalanche.”

“This can be the start of something really special,” she said. “We’re peaking at the right time. We’re confident. … This is an incredible environment. I guarantee you it’s a better environment than any other team has had in the WNIT.

“That says a lot about Tucson and the support for women’s basketball.”

Barnes has directed Arizona’s players to not only win on the court but serve as promotional pieces for the program’s run through the WNIT.

She has them talk to the crowd after games on the PA system. She has them be active on social media urging fans to be come to games. She has them hand out fliers in their classes to fellow students.

“I think it’s exciting to see the whole city back us up in these types of games,” said Tee Tee Starks, who finished with nine points, four of them pivotal at the start of the game that got the Wildcats going.

“Everybody (other teams) is not playing right now. Just to have that kind of support is cool. … I would just say (to the student body), ‘If you guys have any doubts about the team, what we are and the things that we can do as a team, come out and see.'”

McDonald added, “A lot of people will be like, ‘Oh, women’s basketball is not exciting.’ … We can show you better than we can tell you.”

Freshman Cate Reese is definitely showing them. She’s showing she means business and it is a sight to behold for a player who will be in Barnes’ program for the next three seasons.

Reese had 13 points and nine rebounds. In one sequence, she grabbed a rebound, dribbled the length of the court (as a 6-2 forward) and scored the basket. The next time down, she ripped the rebound down emphatically, towering over Wyoming 5-7 guard Clara Tapia.

Reese had that look of, “Don’t mess with me.”

“A lot of times we can have mismatches at all positions,” Starks said. “During that time, we were going to Cate and she was delivering, so why not keep going to her?”

Tapia and fellow guard Marta Gomez bore the brunt of Arizona’s intensity, especially on defense. Gomez entered the game as the nation’s leading 3-point shooter at 48.7 percent (73 of 150). She missed all four of her attempts from beyond the arc.

Wyoming, No. 2 in the nation in 3-point shooting at 39.2 percent, went a combined 2 of 12.

“We played some really good defense; we knew who to key on,” Barnes said. “We were aggressive. They were having to play their offense way beyond the 3-point line. That’s what we intended to do … We focused on the gameplan and the players executed it.

“They were the best team we’ve faced in the postseason, but we didn’t make them look like that today.”

2019 WNIT RESULTS AND SCHEDULES

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Access full bracket at this link.

Arizona’s Quad

FIRST ROUND

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SECOND ROUND

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THIRD ROUND

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QUARTERFINAL

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Quad 2

FIRST ROUND

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SECOND ROUND

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THIRD ROUND
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QUARTERFINAL
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SEMIFINAL

Wednesday

TCU at Arizona, 6:30 p.m.

Quad 3
Opposite of Arizona

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SECOND ROUND

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THIRD ROUND
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QUARTERFINAL

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Quad 4
Opposite of Arizona

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SECOND ROUND

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THIRD ROUND

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QUARTERFINAL

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SEMIFINAL

Wednesday

Northwestern 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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