Arizona’s record against top 10 teams on the road stands at 0-60 in the 37 years of the program’s existence, but that does not seem as daunting as the past with how Arizona has surged the last two seasons under Adia Barnes.
The Wildcats have produced a series of firsts in Barnes’ four years as head coach — including last week’s first win over a top 10 team since 2004 when Arizona routed No. 8 UCLA — so why not believe more history can be made by Aari McDonald and Co.?
The pressure is not there, only the fun in the attempt. As Barnes put it this week after Arizona swept USC and UCLA for the first time in 15 years, the 12th-ranked Wildcats really have nothing to lose when they play at No. 3 Oregon tonight at 7 (Pac-12 Networks/KTUC 1400-AM).
“No one expects us to go to Oregon and win, and no one expects us to go to Oregon State and win on their home court (Sunday),” Barnes said. “We have nothing to lose. There’s no pressure. … I really believe our team can beat anybody.”
Oregon coach Kelly Graves and Oregon State coach Scott Rueck believe the same thing, especially after Arizona pushed each of their teams to the limit last month at McKale Center before pulling away in the last seconds.
Graves is most concerned about defending McDonald, who attracts groups of defenders on her way to the basket, which leaves other Wildcats open for the chance to score or she often gets fouled or she manages to make a shot quite often.
.@AariMcdonald owns the longest double-digit scoring streak in the nation. 📈
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) February 7, 2020
“You guard her with five players; you have to,” said Graves, who compares McDonald to former explosive Oregon running back LaMichael James. “She’s sees a little opening, boom, she’s through it and it’s over. You’re done.”
Arizona (18-3, 7-3) will play at one of the nation’s most difficult venues tonight at Oregon, which is second in the nation behind South Carolina averaging 10,363 fans a game at Matthew-Knight Arena. The Gamecocks average 11,336 fans a game.
The Ducks, who are 11-0 at home and on an eight-game winning streak overall, are coming off a significant 74-56 win at No. 4 UConn on Monday.
It’s Bill, right? pic.twitter.com/FoLew6n2h3
— Arizona Women's Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) February 6, 2020
All five Oregon starters scored in double figures, and the Ducks forced 15 turnovers while limiting the 11-time national champion Huskies to 39 percent shooting. Ruthy Hebard had 22 points and 12 rebounds and Satou Sabally also had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
In Oregon’s 71-64 win at Arizona on Jan. 12, Sabrina Ionescu compiled her 22nd career triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
The only times Arizona has been ranked this high facing a top 10 on the road was in the 1997-98 season — Barnes’ senior season at Arizona — when the Wildcats were No. 10 playing at No. 4 Louisiana Tech and No. 7 facing fifth-ranked Stanford. Arizona lost both of those games (75-64 against Louisiana Tech and 108-90 against Stanford).
No. 12 is @ArizonaWBB's highest ranking since 1998!
Some things have changed since then pic.twitter.com/S56YpyfSPZ
— Arizona Athletics (@AZATHLETICS) February 3, 2020
Arizona is presently the No. 13 overall team in the NCAA women’s tournament rankings, which makes the Wildcats a No. 4 seed if the season ended today. That would mean Arizona would be a host site in the first two weeks of the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats are also No. 13 nationally in terms of average home attendance, drawing 5,710 fans a game at McKale Center. Here is a table that indicates where the top 16 ranked teams by the NCAA stand in terms of attendance:
NCAA Women's Basketball Overall Attendance LeadersTop attendance figures in women's basketball as of games on Feb. 24. AllSportsTucson.com chart.
Keep in mind that schools not on this list are drawing more fans a game than Arizona. Those schools include Iowa State (8,833 fans a game), Tennessee (8,298), Notre Dame (7,652) and Purdue (6,283).
— The Wildcats have won five straight regular season conference games for the first time since the 1999-00 season. During the streak, they have been leading by at least 10 points at one point in each game.
— McDonald was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for the second time this season on Monday. Arizona is the only team in the Pac-12 to win Pac-12 Player of the Week four times. McDonald was also named the Naismith National Player of the Week on Tuesday. She has scored in double-figures in 58 straight games, her entire Arizona career. It is the longest active streak in the nation. Since the turn of the century, 58 games is the third-longest double-figure scoring streak among Pac-12 players. McDonald, who is eighth on the Arizona career scoring list, is ninth in the country in scoring and leads the Pac-12 (20.8 points per game). She also leads the Pac-12 in steals per game (2.7).[table “57” not found /]
— Arizona is one of four teams in the nation to have their only losses be to current top-10 teams (Baylor, UConn and Gonzaga are the others).
— Baylor is the only team in the nation to have more wins than Arizona in their last 27 games (26).
— The last time Arizona won at least 18 regular season games was back in the 2010-11 season when the Wildcats were 19-10 before playing in the Pac-10 tournament.
— Arizona is sixth the country in scoring defense (52.1 points allowed a game) and first in the Pac-12. The Wildcats have held all of their Pac-12 opponents under their scoring average. Oregon averages 86.2 points a game.
— Arizona has been ranked in the AP Poll for 11 straight weeks for the first time since the 1999-00 season. No. 12 is Arizona’s highest ranking since the 1997-98 season, Barnes’ senior year.
— Sam Thomas scored a season-high 20 points vs. UCLA on 4-of-5 shooting (4-of-4 from 3) and was 8-of-10 from the line. Thomas is the only player in school history to have 100 career made threes and blocks. She is one of two current Pac-12 players with 100 career threes and blocks (Stephanie Watts of USC is the other). Thomas is second in the Pac-12 in career blocks among active players.
— Cate Reese had her seventh double-double of the season on Sunday against USC, scoring 18 points and grabbing a career-high 17 rebounds. She has already matched her double-double total from last season.
— Arizona is 13-0 when Dominique McBryde is in the starting lineup.
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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.