Adia Barnes said more than once Friday, “It’s not about winning, it’s about how you play,” which goes against Al Davis’ famous credo of, “Just win, baby.”
Just winning against a winless Cal team that starts freshmen and sophomores, is decimated by injuries and has been derailed by COVID-19 postponements is not all that pleasing to a team of No. 10 Arizona’s stature.
Barnes made the comment of her team’s performance as being “atrocious” and that it was “our worst game of the season.”
“It’s very disappointing; it does not feel like we won,” Barnes added after Arizona escaped with a 59-50 win over the Pac-12’s last-place team. “I was concerned about our lack of focus and lack of intensity … we were very relaxed. I mean, we’re not good enough to just overlook any team in the Pac-12.
“I don’t care about winning. I care about us playing well and having the momentum this time of year. We didn’t do that. We took a step backwards today.”
Some might take Barnes’ comment of “I don’t care about winning,” the wrong way, but what she said makes sense, especially coming from someone who has experienced late-season runs as a player at Arizona, a coach with the Wildcats in the WNIT two years ago and as an assistant at Washington when the Huskies reached the Final Four.
Arizona (15-2, 13-2 Pac-12) goes from playing the hapless Golden Bears (0-11, 0-14) to facing sixth-ranked Stanford (19-2, 16-2) at Maples Pavilion on Monday in a game that could decide the Pac-12 regular-season championship.
All things considered — with Arizona ranked in the top 10 for the 12th week this year and the Wildcats never before starting 13-2 in conference play — Monday’s game is the most significant regular-season game in the program’s history.
“Ideally, in a perfect situation, you want momentum going into a game like Monday,” Barnes said. “You want to be playing your best.”
The Wildcats knew how pesky Cal could be after the Golden Bears upset them last season on Senior Day after Arizona had just toppled No. 4 Stanford.
Arizona withstood Cal this time with its defense in the fourth quarter that limited the Golden Bears to only one field goal made in the last 9:42 left of the game.
A snapshot of that defense was Sam Thomas and Lauren Ware blocking successive attempts by Mia Mastrov with 28 and 16 seconds left, respectively, with Arizona clinging to a 55-50 lead.
Aari McDonald led the Wildcats with 28 points to reach double figures for the 83rd consecutive game, which leads the nation and spans her entire Arizona career. Trinity Baptiste added 11 points.
“Coach Barnes was asking us (in the postgame locker room), ‘Do we want to win?'” McDonald said. “We can do something special on Monday. We just need to have focus. We have to be mature. She just really challenged us to bounce back from Monday.”
The stats that grabbed Barnes’ attention the most were Cal outrebounding Arizona 40-26 that led to 34 points in the paint and Arizona producing only five assists for 21 field goals made.
“An indication of a poor offensively played game is five assists with 21 field goals made,” Barnes said. “If we didn’t have Aari scoring and creating shots on her own, we wouldn’t have won the game. Aari put us on her back, and she played 36 minutes, which was not my intention going into the game.”
The 34 points in the paint by Cal were more than what the Golden Bears scored overall when Arizona won 69-33 at McKale Center on Jan. 3. That was the lowest point total allowed by the Wildcats in a Pac-12 game in program history.
Cal freshmen frontcourt players Dalayah Daniels and Ugonne Onyiah combined for 37 points and 20 rebounds on Friday.
Daniels led Cal with 24 points 9-of-13 shooting from the field. She also had 10 rebounds.
Onyiah added 13 points making 5 of 10 shots and had 10 rebounds. She made both of Cal’s shots in the fourth quarter.
A key for Arizona pulling away was Daniels missing the only attempt she tried in the fourth quarter after making all five of her shots for 12 points in the third quarter. In the last quarter, the Golden Bears made only 2 of 11 shots from the field and missed all five of their 3-point attempts. They made one of their last 10 field goal attempts.
“I don’t think we did anything because we didn’t do anything the whole game,” Barnes said when asked about any possible defensive adjustments that were made on Daniels in the fourth quarter. “Every adjustment I made we couldn’t do. I think she probably didn’t look to score.
“If she was more experienced, she would have taken the ball and driven it on us because she would have probably scored 10 points that quarter. We just couldn’t guard her.”
The Wildcats scored six unanswered points to take a 51-46 lead with 4:36 left.
Shortly thereafter, Cate Reese picked up her fourth foul. Thomas already sat with four fouls with 5:04 remaining.
A layup by Shaina Pellington with 3:46 left gave Arizona a 53-47 lead.
Thomas, who had two blocks to give her 158 in her career, reentered the game with 2:07 left and the Wildcats leading 53-50.
McDonald’s driving shot with 1:43 left increased the lead to 55-50.
Baptiste’s two free throws with 10 seconds left sealed the win.
— Arizona Women’s Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) February 19, 2021
“First and foremost, give credit to Cal. They did a really good job of isolating us and they were scoring on the same play for almost 40 minutes,” McDonald said of the interior production of Daniels and Onyiah. “We had to make the adjustments. We just knew we had to take pride in our defense.
“They can’t score on us. They kept isolating us. Something had to give and I think we played better help-side defense and we were more active getting 50-50 balls (in the fourth quarter).”
The Wildcats were beset by poor shooting and foul trouble by Reese at the start.
Reese, the Pac-12 Player of the Week, did not make her first field goal until 27 seconds remained in the third quarter. She was whistled for her second foul with 7:15 left in the first quarter and finished with six points.
Arizona made only 11 of 32 shots from the field and were 2 of 9 from 3-point range in the first half after making 12 of 16 from beyond the arc against Washington last Sunday.
The Wildcats finished 21 of 57 (36.8 percent) from the field and were 3 of 15 from beyond he arc.
Arizona improved its shooting in the fourth quarter going 6 of 13 from the field without taking a 3-pointer. McDonald and Baptiste made all four of Arizona’s free throw attempts in the last 10 seconds.
“I’m really about being consistent and getting better, and we didn’t get better at anything today,” Barnes said. “We’re going to play better. We have to play better or else we don’t beat Stanford. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose on Monday. It’s the way we play because we’re going to have another opportunity in the Pac-12 tournament to beat some great teams.
“We’re in a situation right now in which we have a chance to be a great seed in the (NCAA) tournament, we have a chance to win the Pac-12 title, and we have a chance to win the Pac-12 tournament. These are opportunities that are very close to us. It’s up to us if we’re going to go in and take them.”
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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.