When Tara VanDerveer started her coaching career 41 years ago at Idaho, Adia Barnes was but a year old. Through her basketball life, playing against her and now coaching against her, Barnes has developed the utmost regard for the elder stateswoman of women’s college basketball.
“She’s one of the coaches I respect the most in the country,” Barnes said. “It’s one thing getting to the top. Hopefully, we get there one day. It’s a different thing being on the top for decades.
“When you’re good and you stay good for years, and you’re rarely ever bad, I think that is a good coach who has a good system and is one of the best.”
Friday night after VanDerveer’s fourth-ranked Stanford team lost 73-72 in overtime to No. 13 Arizona at McKale Center, it was the second-winningest coach in women’s basketball history who heaped high praise to her understudy Barnes.
“Arizona played very hard; they’re very aggressive,” said VanDerveer, who was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. “We turned the ball over too much (with 22). Credit their defense.
“I think Adia has done a fantastic job with her team. They really competed. … It’s just awesome what’s happening here. It’s not only the team and the coaches, but this community embracing this team is a wonderful thing.”
VanDerveer is to Arizona’s program what Lute Olson was to ASU, Washington State and Oregon State back when he could not lose to those conference programs.
VanDerveer, 66, entered Friday night’s game with a 63-9 record (.875 winning percentage) against Arizona since she became Stanford’s head coach in 1985-86. The Cardinal put together a 33-1 stretch against the Wildcats dating to the 2003-04 season before Friday’s loss.
The Wildcats managed to narrowly get by Stanford in front of a crowd of 7,838 fans that seemed larger.
Just four days previously, No. 3 Oregon beat VanDerveer’s team 74-66 at Palo Alto, Calif. The Ducks’ coach, Kelly Graves, has proven to be one of the best coaches in the the nation with how he has built Oregon into a favorite to win the national title this season with player of the year Sabrina Ionescu.
Adia Barnes responds to the magnitude of Tara Vanderveer’s comment that she will vote for Barnes as the Pac-12 Coach of the Year: pic.twitter.com/Hnfd9qMpLF
Graves is a candidate for Pac-12 coach of the year.
VanDerveer believes that honor belongs to Barnes.
“Adia gets my vote for coach of the year,” VanDerveer said. “She’s done a phenomenal job, and it’s kind of fun.”
Those words, “it’s kind of fun,” are rarely said by a losing coach, especially in a grueling overtime game, but VanDerveer has vested her interest in Arizona’s program since Barnes took over at her alma mater in 2016.
Barnes said VanDerveer tells her she has become a fan of Arizona’s program as a whole only when Stanford is not playing against the Wildcats.
“She’s just a great coach, a great person, someone I look up to,” Barnes said of VanDerveer, who is eight wins shy of passing the late, great Pat Summit as the winningest coach in women’s college basketball history.
VanDerveer has a record of 1,091-252 (.812) as a college head coach. Summit had 1,098 victories in her legendary career at Tennessee.
VanDerveer is a pioneer of the sport that has grown by leaps and bounds in popularity since when she started to help lay the foundation in the late 1970’s. Arizona drawing 7,838 fans last night is symbolic for how women’s basketball has evolved since VanDerveer was one of the first coaches to make the sport appealing to young players and fans through her success at Stanford that includes two national titles.
VanDerveer can take pride observing the excitement and interest in the sport that Barnes has created with fans in Tucson.
“We’ve come down here and I can count on my fingers and toes how many people came out,” VanDerveer said. “To have a player like Aari McDonald, to have a competitive team and this kind of support, it says a lot of Adia’s ability to coach and lead a program.”
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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.