UConn and WNBA great Rebecca Lobo commentating on tonight’s Oregon-Arizona game is like Dick Vitale or Al Maguire giving their viewpoints of the Wildcats during a national television broadcast back in the day when Lute Olson was making the men’s program relevant.
Lobo may not actually be at McKale Center tonight when No. 11 Arizona (8-2, 6-2 Pac-12) hosts No. 10 Oregon — ESPN has not been sending its commentators to arenas because of COVID-19 — but her presence and communication to a national audience about Arizona’s burgeoning program in the Pac-12 will pay dividends down the road for Adia Barnes.
Holly Rowe, a distinguished voice on ESPN, will also be part of the broadcast that starts at 5 p.m. Ryan Ruocco, a New York-based broadcaster who is a voice for the NBA, WNBA, New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets, will do the play-by-play.
— Arizona Women's Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) January 14, 2021
Arizona’s first appearance on an ESPN national television broadcast at McKale will be a very important one for Barnes’ program to show the nation how far it has come in her fifth season of a major rebuild.
The appearance comes against a dominant Oregon (9-2, 7-2) program that has won 10 straight games against the Wildcats. Arizona lost its three games against the Ducks last season, including being eliminated in the Pac-12 tournament, by an average of 19.3 points.
Barnes is is 76-62 at her alma mater, where she became an All-American and the school’s career scoring leader. Her record is phenomenal, inasmuch as after her first two seasons, she was 20-40.
A major reason for Arizona’s surge is the playmaking and all-out hustle of fifth-year senior All-American guard Aari McDonald and the defense and leadership of fellow senior Sam Thomas.
McDonald has scored in double figures in 76 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation. The feat also encompasses her entire career at Arizona after she transferred from Washington following her freshman season with the Huskies in 2016-17.
Arizona Career Scoring LeadersTop five scorers in Arizona history:
She is the NCAA’s career scoring leader among active players with 1,947 points and is fourth in Arizona history at 1,674. She tops the Pac-12 in scoring (18.7 points per game) and assists (5.2).
Against Oregon, a perennial power in the Pac-12, McDonald is averaging 25.3 points, 4.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game on 51 percent shooting from the field. She has made 2.5 shots a game from beyond the arc.
Thomas is the career leader in blocks among all active Pac-12 players with 148. No other Pac-12 player has 100 blocks. She scored her 1,000th career point at Washington State on Sunday and is at 1,001.
Junior forward Cate Reese, who has 16 double-doubles in her career, is looking for her first double-double since the season opener against NAU. Reese is also closing in on 1,000 career points. She is at 985 through 78 games, all of them starts, of her Arizona career.
Oregon is without its three-headed monster from last season — Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard (all of whom are in the WNBA) — but the Ducks have reloaded under coach Kelly Graves.
The Ducks are balanced with four players averaging scoring in double figures led by Erin Boley (12.5 points a game) followed by Nyara Sabally, Satou’s sister (12.3), Te-Hina Paopao, former Arizona football player Joe Salave’a’s niece (12.2) and Taylor Mikesell (10.5).
Nyara Sabally leads the Ducks with 8.1 rebounds per game.
Graves’ team is also balanced with its execution.
Oregon ranks No. 8 in the nation and second in the Pac-12 with an impressive 1.53 assist-to-turnover ratio and the Ducks’ defensively are holding opponents to 24.7 percent 3-point shooting, ranking first in the Pac-12, after limiting Cal to a 1-of-16 showing on Sunday.
Graves’ motion on offense is working with Oregon leading the Pac-12 and ranking 12th in the nation shooting 48.6 percent as a team.
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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.