Arizona Women's Basketball

Elite Eight postgame interviews: Arizona vs. Indiana

On April 5, 2016, Arizona hired Adia Barnes to reenergize a women’s basketball program that was at rock bottom.

During the introduction press conference, Barnes talked about her vision for the program and stated, “We have every resource here available to be successful.”

Fast forward to five years later and Barnes has her team not only in the NCAA tournament, but after a 66-53 win over No. 4 seed Indiana, the Wildcats are marching to the program’s first Final Four.

During Barnes’ five-year coaching career at Arizona, she has managed to capture the attention of the city of Tucson by storm.

The love affair the city now has with the women’s basketball program is reminiscent of another basketball coach building a program from the ground up. That is the late Lute Olson.

The two share a similarity of getting the community involved by selling the fans on a dream. 

The similarities don’t stop there. Olson was hired in 1983, and in five short years, he took his Wildcats to the pinnacle of the college basketball world, the Final Four.

The team was led by star player Sean Elliott of Cholla High School. He is the program’s greatest player. He holds the school’s scoring record.

The 2020-21 Arizona women’s basketball team has all the makings of that 1987-88 squad that took the men’s program to new heights.

A head coach that sells the vision of the program not only to players but a fanbase as well — check.

A Star player in Aari McDonald who can put the team on her shoulders like Elliott — check.

Chemistry on the team that has improved over the duration — check.

Barnes and McDonald have now taken this program to where no one thought was possible as recently as three years ago when the Wildcats were 6-24 two years into Barnes’ rebuild.

History is in the making with more chapters to come.

McDonald has turned Arizona into must-watch television during this magical run. The Wildcats are on the map, drawing national media attention, 33 years after Elliott did the same with the men reaching their first Final Four under Olson.

“To me, this is the best,” Barnes said when asked to rank McDonald’s performance among the top in NCAA Tournament history for the women.

“She’s been amazing. Stars make big plays. And they step up when it really counts. No one remembers how you started. They remember how you finish. I think that I’ve seen a different Aari in the tournament, just more relaxed, more at ease, really leading the team in so many different ways and letting the game come to her. She’s been unstoppable. No one can guard her. Just for her to have 31, 33 points (against Texas A&M and Indiana) and then to shoot the percentages she shot, and to have 11 rebounds and four assists. She’s just been playing at another level.”

McDonald has announced this is her final season at Arizona. The WNBA is next on her agenda and the league can’t wait for her star power.

Against Indiana in the Elite Eight game, she finished with 33 points on 12-for-20 shooting and went 5-for-6 from beyond the arc while tallying 11 rebounds and four assists.

Here are Barnes and McDonald talking about reaching the Final Four and discussing what it took to get to this point in the tournament:

It is crazy to think that just three years ago, Arizona was at the bottom of the Pac-12 with a young McDonald having to sit out due to transfer rules from Washington and a young Sam Thomas wondering if the program would make a turnaround.

The program’s 2018-19 WNIT title run in McDonald’s first season was an indication the program was taking off to an extraordinary level, now reaching the Final Four. 

Here are Thomas and Trinity Baptiste talking about the feeling knowing their team is going to play in a Final Four and discussing how the team has made it to this moment:

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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer Troy Hutchison hails from Tucson and is a lifelong Arizona Wildcats follower. He has been involved in sports journalism over the last two years while taking communications courses at Pima Community College.

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