The fatigue factor, if there is one, is practically equal for No. 18 Arizona and No. 2 Oregon when the teams play at noon Sunday at McKale Center.
The Wildcats (13-2, 2-2 Pac-12) will have their toughest challenge of the year only 38 hours after finishing their 63-61 loss to No. 3 Oregon State. Second-ranked Oregon (12-2, 2-1) comes to town after completing its game two hours prior at ASU on Friday night at Tempe, suffering a 72-66 upset loss to the Sun Devils.
The Ducks had to travel to Tucson and get situated to prepare yesterday for today’s game (televised on Pac-12 Network and aired on KTUC 1400-AM).
“The difficulty with our league — there’s such good teams with the turnaround,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said after the loss to Oregon State.
“If you prepare early in the week, later in the week you focus on one team and then Saturday is really a walkthrough. You can’t really practice.”
She then rattled off the minutes played against the Beavers by some of her players — 39 minutes from Aari McDonald, 38 from Sam Thomas, 36 from Cate Reese and 33 from Amari Carter.
Also to be considered: Dominique McBryde is working her way back from a serious ankle sprain, that sidelined her for five weeks. She played 17 minutes Friday. And productive freshman guard Helena Pueyo suffered a sprained right ankle early in the second quarter Friday and did not return. Barnes said Pueyo should play today, but with the game so close to Friday’s, the question becomes how long can she play?
“You have to be light (with the workout Saturday),” Barnes said. “It’s more of a mental walkthrough with a little bit of shooting. You have to rest the kids because it’s less than 48 hours. You have to rest and recover. You go on the court and walkthrough the little things.”
She also mentioned that time for game-film watching by the coaches and sharing that knowledge with the players must be fit in to the busy schedule. Chances are Barnes and her staff had little time to sleep between Friday night late after the game and early this morning to prepare for gameday activities, such as the team meal, meeting and shootaround.
Such is life as a major-college coach, especially one trying to build Arizona into a player in the highly challenging Pac-12, the best conference in the nation.
Despite Oregon’s loss to ASU, the Ducks arguably are still the best team in the nation with the top player — guard Sabrina Ionescu, who is destined to be a WNBA star when she elevates to that level. She averages 16.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game.
Ionescu enters today’s game with 911 career assists, good for No. 10 on the NCAA all-time list. She has an unbelievable 21 triple-doubles in her career — a record for women and men — including one against Arizona last season with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists in a 93-60 win. The senior could have left for the WNBA after last season but decided to return for her last season to chase an NCAA title.
Another rung up the ladder.
“She is amazing,” Thomas said. “We were watching our men’s team play the other day and they were talking about her there. She’s just a great player.
“You know you really have to try to pick your poison with her. She’s a great passer, a great shooter. So kudos to her, she stayed to get her team a national championship, so we’ll just have to come out hard against her.”
Ionescu is part of Oregon’s three-headed monster that includes forwards Ruthy Hebard (16.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game) and Satou Sabally (14.1 points, 6.2 rebounds). The Ducks also have good depth, including guard Minyon Moore (4.7 assists per game).
The challenge is monumental for Arizona, especially facing a determined Oregon team that does not want to get swept this weekend. The Ducks likely will not be looking ahead to playing No. 5 Stanford at home Friday. The Wildcats must also overcome historical odds.
They have lost 51 straight games to top 10 teams dating to the 2003-04 season. They are 0-26 at McKale Center against teams ranked in the top 5. Overall at McKale against teams ranked in the top 10, Arizona is 4-62.
— After drawing 5,694 fans for Friday’s game at McKale Center, the Wildcats are averaging 4,780 fans a game at home. That’s an increase of 1,227 a game from the average of 3,553 last season. Barnes has mentioned she envisions that mark becoming 8,000 to 9,000 a game.
Thank you for all of the support tonight. Tough loss for us but we fought hard and showed heart. OSU is a great team. On to the next one!
— Arizona is third the country in scoring defense (allowing 48.2 points a game). Arizona’s field goal percentage defense (31.9) is fourth in the nation and first in the Pac-12. The Wildcats are the only team in the Pac-12 to allow fewer than 50 points per game.
— Over its last three games, Arizona is shooting 94 percent from the free throw line (30 of 32).
— Arizona has been ranked in the top 25 in the AP poll for seven straight weeks, the longest stretch since the 2002-03 season when it spent 15 weeks in the poll.
— Aari McDonald was named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 on Wednesday. McDonald, who is 15th on the Arizona career scoring list, is 16th in the country in scoring and leads the Pac12 (19.8 points a game). • She has scored in double-figures in 52 straight games, her entire Arizona career. It is the second-longest active streak in the nation (Chennedy Carter of Texas A&M is at 55).
Arizona Double-Double Career LeadersTop career double-double performers for Arizona.
— Cate Reese’s six double-doubles is the fourth-most in the Pac-12 behind Hebard, Ionescu and Oregon State’s Mikayla Pivec. She has 13 double-doubles in her career, ranking her seventh in program history. She is one she of tying Margo Clark at No. 6. Clark had 14 from 1991-94.
— Sam Thomas is the only player in school history to have 100 career made threes and blocks and is one of two current Pac-12 players with 100 career threes and blocks (Stephanie Watts of USC is the other).
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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.