After setting the record for the best start in program history at 10-0, No. 18 Arizona now is focused on going unbeaten in non-conference play for the first time since the program started in 1972-73.
Adia Barnes‘ team hosts Cal Santa Barbara (4-7) today at McKale Center at 1 p.m. before the players disperse to their families for Christmas. They then return to Tucson to prepare for a Dec. 29 noon game at ASU to open the Pac-12 schedule.
“The scariest games that you can play are during finals or right before Christmas break,” Barnes said after the last game nine days ago against Tennessee State, a 77-42 victory at McKale. “Everybody’s thinking about what time their fight is leaving. That’s why I hate (today’s) game is early. I prefer the game to be at 7 at night so they can’t leave until the next day.
“I’m hoping they are mature enough this year to stay focused, stay ready and not think I have to go to Phoenix for a 5 o’clock flight.”
Home court advantage might help to keep the focus against UC Santa Barbara as well as the potential return of senior leader Dominique McBryde and freshmen Mara Mote and Sevval Gul from leg and ankle injuries,
The Wildcats entered this week third in the conference in attendance averaging 3,510 fans a game. They trail only Oregon (5,347) and Oregon State (4,447).
Barnes’ team has won a school-record 12 straight games at McKale as part of its overall program record of 16 consecutive victories dating to last season.
Barnes hopes her defense, one of the best in the nation, can keep the team charged toward success against the Gauchos.
Arizona leads the country in field goal percentage defense (28.5 percent). The Wildcats are one of two teams in the country (Baylor the other) to rank in the top seven in field goal percentage defense and field goal percentage (48.4 percent).
Arizona’s scoring margin of 31.3 points a game is the fifth highest in the nation.
“For me, I’m looking big picture because the Pac-12 is going to come fast,” Barnes said about the upcoming slate of games at ASU, USC and No. 10 UCLA and then home games against No. 4 Oregon State and No. 3 Oregon.
The conference has five of the 12 unbeaten teams remaining including Arizona, which was tied for the lead in the nation with 10 victories at the start of the week. The other unbeaten teams are Colorado (10-0), Oregon State (11-0), Stanford (10-0) and UCLA (10-0).
UC Santa Barbara beat USC (7-3) at home 57-46 on Nov. 18. Of the Gauchos’ seven losses, four are by less than five points, including a last-second 58-57 loss at Grand Canyon on Thursday.
Three players finished with double-digit points for UCSB, including Coco Miller with 18, Ila Lane with 14 points and 18 rebounds (sixth double-double of the year), and Tal Sahar with 13 points.
Arizona’s Aari McDonald is 19th in the country in scoring and leads the Pac-12 (19.8 points a game).
Last season, forward Cate Reese led all Pac-12 freshmen with seven double-doubles, and has three this season after a 19-point and 17-rebound performance at UTEP, becoming the 12th player in school history with at least 10 double-doubles. Reese is second on the team with 15.2 points per game and averages a team-high 8.7 rebounds per game, which is the fourth highest in the Pac-12. Over her last three games, she is averaging 19.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game while shooting 63 percent from the field.
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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.