Arizona has much to play for today at noon against California in addition to wanting a resounding victory for the seniors and fourth-year junior Aari McDonald — all of whom are responsible for the resurgence of the women’s basketball program under Adia Barnes.
The 13th-ranked Wildcats (23-5, 12-5 Pac-12) are at least assured a bye in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament that begins Thursday at Mandalay Bay Events Center at Las Vegas.
A victory today against the Golden Bears (10-18, 2-15) could put Arizona in position for third place in the Pac-12, thereby avoiding regular-season champion Oregon until the championship game next Sunday. To finish third, the Wildcats would have to beat Cal and hope Stanford (13-4 in the Pac-12) loses today at ASU. Arizona would win the tiebreaker with the Cardinal by beating them head-to-head Friday night in overtime.
As it is right now, the Wildcats are in fourth. If the season ended today, they would play the winner of the No. 12 against No. 5 matchup in the first round. That would be either Cal or ASU. If they finish third, they would be matched up against either No. 11 or No. 6. That would be either Washington State or Oregon State.
What else a win would mean today for the Wildcats (the game will be live on the Pac-12 Network and on KTUC (1400-AM):
— The Wildcats will have won 24 regular-season games, tying the school record set in 1999-2000. That team led by Felecity Willis, Lisa Griffith, Reshea Bristol, Monica Crank, Elizabeth Pickney, Lakeisha Taylor and Tatum Brown finished 24-6 under Joan Bonvicini in the regular season finishing with a sweep of Stanford and Cal on the road. They played in the NCAA subregional at Knoxville, Tenn., and won the first game against Kent State before losing to host Tennessee in the second round. They finished with a school-record 25 wins. Arizona can break that mark this season with two more wins.
— They will have swept the Bay Area schools for the first time since 2003-04.
— They will have 13 conference wins for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
— They can potentially move into the AP Top 10 when the poll is released tomorrow morning, advancing that high for the first time since Barnes’ senior season of 1997-98. The Wildcats have been ranked for 14 weeks, the most since 15 appearances in 2002-03.
More Arizona notables:
— The Wildcats are coming off the program’s first win over a top 5 team with the 73-72 overtime win over No. 4 Stanford. They are now 1-50 overall and 1-27 at McKale Center against such teams.
— Arizona is 13th the country in scoring defense (55.0 points allowed per game) and first the Pac-12. The Wildcats have held all of their Pac-12 opponents except for Utah under their scoring average.
— Arizona is 14-0 when they score 70 points of more.
— The Wildcats know how to get the job done. They have won 26 straight games when leading by at least 10 points at some point during the game.
— Arizona won six games in the month of February for the first time in 16 years.
— Junior utility player Sam Thomas scored a career-high 31 points and was 13-of-13 from the foul line at Utah last week. She became the only player in Arizona history to have six blocks and four steals in one game vs. Washington. She is second in the Pac-12 in blocks per game (1.5) and fourth in steals per game (1.8). Thomas is the only player in school history to have 100 career made threes and blocks. She is fifth in Arizona history in blocked shots (132) and sixth in made threes (129). Thomas is second in the Pac-12 in career blocks and fifth in steals among active players. She is also the only player in the Pac-12 with 40 blocks and steals this season.
Arizona Career Blocked Shot Leaders
Arizona Career 3-point Field Goals Made Leaders
— Sophomore forward Cate Reese has seven double-doubles this season (ranking seventh in the Pac-12), matching her total from last season. Look for her to get on track after going scoreless for the first time this season with only two rebounds against Stanford on Friday. It is only the second time she went without scoring in her two years with the program. She had no points last year at Utah.
Arizona Career Double-Double Leaders
— Arizona has set a season-high with 88,393 fans in attendance this season at McKale. That leaves the Wildcats only 11,607 from reaching 100,000 in a season. If that is not attained today, Arizona can reach it from March 20-23. The Wildcats are in solid position to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament from March 20-23. The NCAA tournament seed rankings come out tomorrow at halftime of the South Florida-UConn game on ESPN.
Senior and fourth-year player notables:
— McDonald is a fourth-year junior from Fresno, Calif., who had to sit out a year after transferring from Washington before the 2017-18 season. She has scored in double-figures in 63 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation. She is eighth on the Arizona career scoring list with 1,422 points. She is ninth in the country in scoring and leads the Pac-12 with 20.5 points per game. She also leads the Pac-12 in steals per game (2.5) and was named a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year semifinalist on Tuesday.[table “57” not found /]
— McBryde, of Bedford, Ind., transferred from Purdue also before the 2017-18 season. She set season-highs in points (19), rebounds (eight) and blocks (four) at Oregon State three weeks ago. Arizona is 18-2 when McBryde is in the starting lineup and 11-0 at home. McBryde averaged 10 points per game in her last six games and had her first double-double of the season on Friday with 13 points and 10 rebounds. She is sixth in the Pac-12 in steals per game and has averaged 2.8 steals per game in her last five.
— Alonso, of Leon, Spain, holds the distinction of being Barnes’ first recruit. She has been a member of Spain’s U16, U18 and U19 national team. She scored a season-high 14 points at Utah, with 12 coming in the first half. She has played 120 career games for Arizona and has the highest career three-point percentage in school history at 40.2 percent. She became the 10th player in school history with 100 made three-pointers. She was named Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention for the second time in her career last year. f Is one of seven international players on the roster.
Carter is a graduate transfer from Penn State who has been an integral part of Arizona’s success in the Pac-12 portion of the schedule. She scored a season-high 12 points at Colorado and has scored in double-figures in back-to-back games for the first time this season. She finished with 10 points against Stanford. She is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range in conference play, the fifth-best of any player in the Pac-12. She is averaging nine points per game in her last five. Scored her 1,000th-career point against UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 21. She now is at 1,127 points in her career.
TEE TEE STARKS
— Starks is another transfer who joined the Arizona program from Iowa State before the 2017-18 season (similar to McDonald and McBryde). She is did not play this season after undergoing shoulder surgery in early January. She is like a coach on the bench for her teammates. She led the team in 3-point percentage (43 percent) last season. She was named Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention last season. Winner with a background of three state championships while playing for Hopkins High School at Brooklyn Park, Minn.
— April Phillips, who was on Barnes’ staff last year at Arizona, is an assistant under first-year Cal coach Charmin Smith this season. Phillips worked extensively with Arizona’s post players, helping guide the development of Reese.
— Senior Jaelyn Brown is Cal’s lone starter returning from last season’s team and leads the Bears in scoring this season with 14.7 points per game. She is ranked 12th in the conference in scoring. She has moved into 29th on Cal’s all-time scoring list with 1,034 career points. The senior from Murrieta, Calif., had nine points and three steals on Friday at Arizona State, snapping her streak of seven consecutive games scoring in double-figures.
— Fellow senior CJ West leads the Bears and ranks 11th in the conference in rebounding (6.4 rebounds per game). West went a perfect 3-of-3 from the floor on Friday but saw limited minutes due to foul trouble.
— Cal’s freshman quartet of Cailyn Crocker, Lutje Schipholt, Jazlen Green, and Leilani McIntosh made valuable contributions on both ends of the floor against the Sun Devils. McIntosh – who graduated from Xavier Prep in Phoenix – posted a game-high four steals while Green added seven points off the bench. Overall, Cal’s freshmen scored 34 of the Bears’ 54 total points on Friday night in the 77-54 loss.
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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.