Coming off one of the most successful years in Arizona women’s basketball history, Adia Barnes, a Hall of Famer at the school as a player, is one step closer to the prestigious Naismith National Coach of the Year honor.
Barnes coached Arizona to a 24-7 record, only one win away from matching the school’s season record for victories before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the NCAA tournament, of which the Wildcats were expected to host the first and second rounds.
Barnes is one of the four finalists which includes Kelly Graves (Oregon), Joe McKeown (Northwestern) and Dawn Staley (South Carolina).
If Barnes is selected the Naismith Coach of the Year for women’s basketball, she would become Arizona’s first coach — men or women — to earn the honor. Lute Olson was never chosen for the award although he was a finalist numerous times. Joan Bonvicini, Barnes’ coach at Arizona, was a finalist among the last 25 coaches three times in her career with the Wildcats.
Olson was the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Coach of the Year in 1979-80, when he coached Iowa to the Final Four. He was the Clair Bee Coach of the Year in 2000-01, when Arizona made it to the national championship despite a highly turbulent season in which his wife Bobbi passed away from cancer.
Barnes’ achievements at Arizona, especially in the last two years, are historical. Barnes’ four-year record at Arizona is 68-60 with a 48-20 record the last two seasons.
For the first time in school history this season, Arizona won the first 13 games and had a 19-game winning streak at one point dating back to the 2018-19 season, which was the longest active winning streak at the time.
On Nov. 25, Arizona entered the AP Poll for the first time since 2004 and were ranked every week from that point on, which was 17 straight weeks, the longest streak since the 1999-2000 season.
The Wildcats reached No. 11 on Feb. 17, which is the highest Arizona has been ranked in the AP Poll since 1997-98, when Barnes was a senior.
Arizona also beat three top 10 teams in one season for the first time in school history, which included their first ever win over a top 5 opponent (No. 4 Stanford). On Feb. 9, Arizona beat No. 9 Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore., for their first road win over a top 10 team in program history.
The Wildcats were one of the best defensive teams in the country this season, allowing just 56.6 points per game, which led the Pac-12. They were also first in the Pac-12 averaging 10.2 steals per game and forced their opponents to shoot 37 percent from the field, the third-best in the conference.
Beginning March 20, 2020, fans will be able to support their favorite finalist by visiting the Naismith fan voting site until April 1, to cast their ballot. The fan vote will account for five percent of the overall final vote. The 2020 Werner Ladder Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year is scheduled to be announced on April 3, and the winner will be honored at a later date.
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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.