Arizona Women's Basketball

Arizona Women’s Basketball Notes: In Rare Times Wildcats Beat Top 10 Team, They Win Big


When Arizona defeats a top 10 team — it has only happened five times now since the program started in 1972-73 — the Wildcats ironically usually rout the opposition.

After the 92-66 drubbing of No. 8 UCLA on Friday night, the Wildcats are 5-123 against teams ranked in the top 10. Believe it or not, of those five wins, Arizona’s average margin of victory is 19.6 points.

The five wins, all at McKale Center:

Friday night vs. No. 8 UCLA W, 92-66: Aari McDonald’s 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting and Sam Thomas’ 20 points, going 4-of-4 from 3-point range, propelled the Wildcats to the rout of the Bruins in front of 7,407 fans. Cate Reese also had 13 points and nine rebounds as the Wildcats snapped a 13-game losing streak to UCLA dating to 2012.

Sam Thomas reacts after being the Bang-the-Drum player after the win against UCLA (Troy Hutchison/AllSportsTucson.com)

“That is just a testament to where this program is and where it’s headed,” McDonald said of beating nemesis UCLA. “We were due for a top-10 win and the sky’s the limit for us.”

Feb. 5, 2004 vs. No. 7 Stanford W, 88-83: The late Shawntinice Polk had 21 points and 19 rebounds and Dee-Dee Wheeler added 19 points to lead Joan Bonvicini’s team to the upset win in front of 4,111 fans. Wheeler made 9 of 10 shots from the free-throw line as did Natalie Jones (17 points).

Feb. 27, 2003 vs. No. 9 Stanford W, 79-64: In front of a crowd of 2,770, the Polk-Wheeler combination was too much for the Cardinal the previous season. Polk had 23 points and 11 rebounds and Wheeler scored 26 points with four steals. Julie Brase, Lute Olson’s granddaughter, had 10 points.

Nov. 30, 2002 vs. No. 8 Georgia W, 70-49: Earlier that 2002-03 season, in a “Pack the House” promotion at McKale, a crowd of 5,096 showed up (Arizona reportedly was hoping for at least 10,000) to watch the Wildcats dominate the SEC’s Bulldogs in the third game of the regular season. Brase led all scorers with 16 points and she had four assists. Polk had 17 rebounds to go with her 10 points and five assists.

Jan. 10, 1998 vs. No. 7 Washington W, 93-62: Arizona withstood its 25 turnovers in the game, in front of 2,058, to rout the Huskies behind Reshea Bristol’s 20 points. The difference for Arizona was its 42-32 rebounding edge and shooting 56.1 percent from the field compared to Washington’s 35.5 percent. Adia Barnes, a senior that season, had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Is it any surprise that six of Arizona’s top players in history — Barnes, Bristol, Brase, Polk, Wheeler and McDonald — were part of these top five wins in program history?

Aari McDonald (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Ol’ McDonald had some points

The fourth-year junior guard moved up the Arizona career scoring chart to No. 9 after Friday’s game in which she had 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field. She is at 1,307 points with Wildcats (add the 273 she scored as a freshman at Washington and she is at a total of 1,680 in her career).

McDonald is only nine points from passing Timi Brown (1987-91) and moving to No. 8.

McDonald has not even completed two full seasons yet with the Wildcats. In every game with Arizona, she has scored in double-figures, a stretch of 57 games, which leads the nation.

Sam, I am … great …

Thomas made all four of her 3-point attempts and scored 20 points against UCLA, her highest scoring total since she was a freshman two years ago. She also had one blocked shot and helped defend all positions on the court — Michaela Onyenwere struggled going 5 of 14 from the field and Japrece Dean did not make a basket in 11 attempts.

Sam Thomas (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“She shuts down everybody she matches up with every single game and then on offense, the last couple of games, she’s been a difference in us winning,” Barnes said. “She’s aggressive. She is that next scorer that we need.

“When you’re making shots and you’re hot, then you’re slapping the floor, you’re more confident on defense. So I thought we played some really good defense. They couldn’t get into their offense. We defended all their sets well. If we were supposed to hedge, we hedged. If we were supposed to ice, we iced. They run a lot of really difficult stuff and we countered.”

Arizona in uncharted territory …

The Wildcats are at 17-3 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12 heading into tomorrow’s game at noon against USC at McKale Center. Stanford and Oregon (each 8-1 in league play) and UCLA (7-2) are the only teams ahead of the Wildcats in the conference standings. ASU (6-3) is tied with Arizona but the Wildcats have the tie-breaker with the season sweep.

Barnes made note that despite achieving the first win over a top 10 team in 16 years in the rout of UCLA that Arizona was mostly even-keel after the historic achievement.

“We didn’t like jump up and act like we won a national championship because this is the expectation,” Barnes said. “We know nationally it’s an upset, but we feel like we can play with anyone.”

Adia Barnes, assistant coach Salvo Coppa (Barnes’ husband) and Aari McDonald (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The 17 wins before February is more than what Arizona has achieved the entire season in the previous 14 years, other than when the Wildcats went 24-13 last season and 21-12 in 2010-11. The six Pac-12 wins at this point — midway through the conference season — is more than 18 of the 24 seasons the Wildcats have been part of the Pac-10/12 .

With 279 victories at Arizona, Joan Bonvicini is the career wins leader among Wildcat coaches — there have been nine of them, including Barnes (who is now 61-56 as head coach). After four seasons, Bonvicini won 48 games as she tried to establish a winning culture at Arizona. Barnes’ victory total in her fourth season with at least 10 games remaining is at 61.

Of the six Arizona coaches who have reached a fourth season, Barnes trails only Niya Butts’ 62 wins through the first four years. The win totals of the six coaches through their first four seasons:

— Butts 62

— Barnes 61 (with at least 10 games remaining)

— Bonvicini 48

June Olkowski 34

Judy LeWinter 30

Nancy Trego 25


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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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