Arizona Women's Basketball

Adia Barnes: Arizona Wildcats Unlike Any Other Program in WNIT Run to Title

The last time the Arizona women’s basketball team was in an NCAA tournament game, Aari McDonald was 7 years old and Adia Barnes was playing overseas after concluding her seven-year run in the WNBA.

It was so long ago — 14 years to be exact — that YouTube just hit the internet. Can you remember that?

Here Arizona is — in the first week of April — and the Wildcats are still in the postseason playing for Barnes with McDonald the catalyst. And it’s not the NCAA tournament. It’s the WNIT.

Arizona’s Sam Thomas (14) celebrates the WNIT semifinal win over TCU (Arizona Athletics photo)

And 10,135 people showed up at McKale Center to watch the Wildcats (23-13) beat TCU 59-53 on Wednesday night to advance to the championship game Saturday at noon against Northwestern.

“I don’t think any programs in the Pac-12, or anywhere in the country, without even going to a tournament for a decade … I don’t think any school in this country has had a crowd like this under these circumstances,” Barnes said.

“I would put money on it.”

With the way Barnes is building this program, drawing recruits internationally as well as McDonald’s All-Americans like freshman Cate Reese, her vision (as she calls it) for an NCAA tournament-caliber team should evolve starting next year.

A 15-year wait to return to March Madness should come to an end using this April Awakening in the WNIT as a springboard. With how the fans are coming out fervently — Barnes wants 12,000 Saturday — Arizona already has the fan support worthy of a Top 10 team.

“This city is rallying,” Barnes said. “Already, our season tickets are skyrocketed for next year. There’s momentum for us and that helps in every way.

“(The WNIT run) is enormous for this program.”

So enormous that Barnes said the program is serving notice to the NCAA that future March Madness games should be scheduled at McKale Center when — not if — the Wildcats get there.

“I’m sure when we become a top 25 team, it is going to be a factor,” she said. “If we can draw 10,100 in a semifinal of the WNIT or sell out 14,000 in the final of the WNIT, there is no way we couldn’t host.”

Arizona embodies the fight of McDonald which is tough for opponents to match in addition to the crowd.

McDonald, a 5-foot-7 sparkplug, had 19 points against the physically-imposing Horned Frogs on a rough night from the field (making 8 of 23 shots). She made up for that with a team-best nine rebounds and four steals.

She willed Arizona to win and that’s a pretty strong will.

Her turnover allowed TCU’s Kianna Ray to score a layup with 4:25 left, cutting Arizona’s lead to a precarious 46-43. The McKale crowd got antsy. Arizona did not. The Wildcats became even stronger defensively, allowing TCU to make one of its next eight shots.

“I just knew I couldn’t hang my head (after the turnover). I had to step up and have to be that leader for my team,” McDonald said. “I feel like our defense really helped us pull this win out.”

Her steals matched with Dominique McBryde’s three steals and Sam Thomas’ four blocked shots fueled Arizona against TCU’s size inside with Amy Okonkwo and Jordan Moore (combined 33 points and 21 rebounds).

TOP 10 WNIT CROWDS THIS POSTSEASON

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The Horned Frogs outrebounded the Wildcats 50-33 with guard Lauren Heard also grabbing 12 boards.

The equalizer was Arizona forcing TCU into 15 turnovers, including three shot-clock violations. The Wildcats had a 19-9 edge in points off turnovers while TCU’s edge in second-chance points was only 14-8.

Northwestern is more like Arizona than TCU. The Big Ten team, which lost to Arizona in the WNIT title in 1996 at Amarillo, Texas, had 10 steals on Wednesday night in a 74-69 win at James Madison in the other semifinal.

Pac-12 women season scoring leaders

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Northwestern has won three games on the road in the WNIT largely because of its defense (25 points off turnovers against James Madison) and its execution on offense (15 assists on its 24 made field goals against the Dukes).

“I know their coach (Joe McKeown with 675 career wins in 37 years as a head coach) emphasizes a lot of mental toughness, and mental toughness down the stretch,” said McBryde, who played against Northwestern during her two years at Purdue before transferring last season.

“You know they’re going to play hard the whole entire game so we just have to match their intensity.”

2019 WNIT RESULTS AND SCHEDULES

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Access full bracket at this link.

Arizona’s Quad

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Opposite of Arizona

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Opposite of Arizona

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CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday

Northwestern at Arizona, noon


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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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