Arizona has talked about the realization that now that the Wildcats are in the top 10 weekly, they have become the program others are motivated to beat.
They are no longer in the role of clawing their way to respectability, although that may still be the case for Adia Barnes and her staff in terms of a national perspective. But in the Pac-12, the seventh-ranked Wildcats are no longer the underdogs.
Arizona (8-1, 6-1 Pac-12) faces one of its most difficult challenges from a hungry conference team looking for the upset when the Wildcats visit unranked Washington State (6-1, 4-1) on Sunday at Pullman, Wash. Tip off is at noon, Tucson time. It will be televised live on Pac-12 Networks and also broadcast on 1400-AM with Arizona grad Derrick Palmer calling the action.
To this point, Barnes’ program has handled the pressure of its highest ranking in school history — No. 6 until last week’s loss to No. 1 Stanford — well with the Wildcats in the midst of their longest stretch in program history ranked in the AP top 10. They are at seven weeks.
What to look for today:
— Barring the unforeseen, Arizona All-American guard Aari McDonald will move into the No. 4 spot in the Wildcats’ career scoring chart today. McDonald is at 1,651 points through 75 games at Arizona, trailing Ify Ibekwe (2007-11) by only two points for fourth on the chart.[table “101” not found /]
Because of this year’s reduced schedule due to COVID-19, McDonald’s chance of reaching 2,000 points in her Arizona career will be a difficult task. If Arizona plays the remaining 14 regular season games that are scheduled, with no interruption by COVID-19, she would have to average approximately 24.9 points per game to reach 2,000. It is unknown how many postseason games McDonald will have to build on her career scoring. If everything goes as planned, Arizona should have a good run in the Pac-12 tournament and play in the NCAA tournament. Only two players have reached 2,000 points in their Arizona careers — Barnes with 2,247 in 121 games from 1994-98 and Davellyn Whyte with 2,059 in 126 games from 2009-13.
McDonald, a Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 selection last week, is closing in on 2,000 career points overall extending to her freshman season at Washington in 2016-17. She is at 1,924 points in 103 games, an average of 18.7 points a game in her career.
She also has a 75-game streak — encompassing her entire Arizona career — with games scoring in double digits. She kept that streak alive last Sunday against Cal when she scored her 10th point with less than 7 minutes remaining. Barnes is just as impressed with McDonald’s ability to facilitate as she is with her scoring this year. McDonald leads the Pac-12 with 5.0 assists per game. She also averages 2.8 steals per game, which is third in the Pac-12.
— How will Arizona respond to the threat of talented freshman guard Charlisse Leger-Walker, who is making a strong bid for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and is the kind of international talent Barnes and her husband Salvo Coppa recruit? Leger-Walker, a 5-foot-10 playmaker from New Zealand, was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for the second-consecutive week and for the third time over the past four weeks. The guard averaged 19.5 points per game, which was a league-high among freshman last week. Leger-Walker opened her week by scoring 23 points at Utah, then achieved her first career double-double with a 16-point, 10-assist performance at Colorado. She is the first freshman in Cougar history to collect a double-double via points and assists. Heading into this weekend’s games, Leger-Walker was leading the Pac-12 in scoring at 19.0 points per game. Washington State had a recruiting advantage for Leger-Walker with her sister Krystal a fifth-year senior with the Cougars.
— Defense by both teams will be the difference today. Washington State leads the Pac-12 with 10.6 steals per game and Arizona ranks fourth in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot only 36.1 percent from the field. The Wildcats are coming off a game in which they held Cal to 33 points, the lowest amount by a Pac-12 opponent against Arizona in program history.
Arizona’s leader on defense is Sam Thomas, who is the career leader in blocks among all active Pac-12 players with 148. No other Pac-12 player has 100 blocks.
Arizona Career Blocked Shot Leaders
She is also one of the top 10 in program history in 3-pointers made:
Arizona Career 3-point Field Goals Made Leaders
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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.