Geno Auriemma has faced all those All-American guards from Tennessee, Stanford and Notre Dame and many other places throughout his storied 36-year coaching career at UConn.
He will leave the coaching profession someday knowing Arizona’s Aari McDonald belongs among the best he’s coached against including the likes of Tennessee’s Kara Lawson, Stanford’s Kate Starbird and Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins.
“Aari McDonald, I said going into the game, I don’t think we’ve had to play against a guard as good as she is, and she proved it tonight,” Auriemma said. “She just dominated the entire game start to finish.
“We pride ourselves on being pretty good at certain things. We had no answer for her.”
McDonald had 26 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the field, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range in Arizona’s 69-59 win over UConn in a Final Four game on Friday night at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
She also made 8-of-11 shots from the free-throw line and pulled down seven rebounds.
Her 26 points gives her 2,019 in her three-year Arizona career with the national championship game against Stanford on Sunday at 3 p.m. remaining. She also kept her double-digit scoring streak intact at 92 games, encompassing her entire Arizona career.
She is also among the top 10 scorers in Pac-12 history with 2,292 points including her freshman season at Washington. She passed former Washington player Jazmine Davis for No. 10. Davis had 2,277 points from 2012-15.
Arizona Career Scoring Leaders
UConn’s Williams thought facing Arizona “was going to be easy”
Arizona led throughout after two early 3-pointers by McDonald and Sam Thomas. It appeared the Huskies were bewildered concerning Arizona’s defensive quickness and switches by midway through the second quarter and could not overcome the Wildcats’ tenacity.
“I think we came out with the wrong mentality. … We thought it was going to be easy, I guess, and we got flustered,” said UConn guard Chrystn Williams, who had 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the field before fouling out late in the game. “They had great ball pressure. It wasn’t like anything that we’ve seen before this season. We just couldn’t get in the flow offensively.”
The Huskies shot only 35.7 percent from the field. They led the nation shooting at a 51.6 percent clip entering the game.
Williams was not happy when was asked by a media member how disheartening it was that every time it looked like UConn could make a threat, Arizona always found an answer.
“I mean, what do you think? I mean, yeah, they had an answer for everything,” she said. “Obviously you watched the game. Anybody that watched the game knows it’s devastating. We had to get stops and then we had to score. If we score and we don’t get stops, the score is going to be the same, so …
“I didn’t really like that question.”
VanDerveer supported Pac-12 mate Arizona
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, whose team faces Pac-12 foe Arizona in the national title, mentioned after the Cardinal’s 66-65 win over South Carolina in the earlier game Friday that she supported the Wildcats against UConn.
When somebody asked VanDerveer about having two Pac-12 teams in the national title game, she said, “That would be awesome. We’re rooting for Arizona. It would be really exciting.”
VanDerveer’s team swept Arizona this season winning by a combined 41 points.
She holds the record for most career wins with a record of 1,124–255.
Her program owns a 71-14 lead in its series with Arizona including victories in 35 of the last 37 games.
“We’ll just be reviewing what they did, the good things we did against them and the things that they hurt us with,” VanDerveer said before not knowing the result of Arizona’s game with UConn.
“U of A, U of A” chants heard
Joan Bonvicini took a selfie with Jason Terry in the stands at the Alamodome before Arizona faced UConn.
Barnes’ former teammates Felecity Willis and Reshea Bristol took a photo with another Arizona legend, Dee-Dee Wheeler, of them driving to San Antonio on Thursday to watch the Final Four and national championship.
“I’ve had so much love from everybody. It just fills my heart,” Barnes said. “Lauren Jackson, one of my best friends from my playing days in the WNBA is texting me from Australia, just after having surgery. I hope she recovers well … Sue Bird, Tully (Bevilaqua), all my WNBA teammates, Arizona alumni flying from all over the country to celebrate with us. Jason Terry and all my friends came down to support me. It just means the world to me.
“All my former players from Washington, Kelsey Plum, Jenna Moser, Amber Melgoza. All these people showing love means the world to me.”
Aaarriiiii let emmmm knowwwww she’s a DOG 😤😤😤
— Kelsey Plum (@Kelseyplum10) April 3, 2021
It’s crazy cause AARI has been doing this all year long…getting buckets!!!
— Amber Melgoza (@AmberMelgoza) April 3, 2021
Barnes added that Arizona “shocked the country” with the unexpected win over UConn, which has a significant fan base because of its winning tradition.
“You always see UConn fans everywhere,” she said. “I thought that our fans were just happy, excited, and there was a lot of red in the stands. That feels good. We didn’t do it alone.”
@AdiaBarnes we are so proud of you, you inspire and we hope to see you keep dancing 💃 your way through to the Championship baby! Ps We all know Sue loves you too but tough to go against her Huskies! #BearDown @laurenej15 @sherisam_55 @S10Bird @ArizonaWBB @ncaawbb #FinalFour pic.twitter.com/EsFis2KX0I
— Tully L Bevilaqua OLY (@Bevilaqua41) April 1, 2021
“Remember, our players, these players, have not played with fans the whole year,” Barnes added. “It wasn’t even a packed arena like it should be because of the pandemic. But there was still love and support. I think we play hard for everybody. We play with heart. Just happy our fans could be here to celebrate. Our president (Robert C.) Robbins, our AD Dave Heeke. Jason Terry flew down … he’s been a friend of mine from college. I have actually watched him win a championship when he was in college. We were in college together. He won under Lute Olson. Hopefully he can witness us winning. It feels great to see all the love and support.”
Bonus for Barnes
Arizona’s Final Four victory over UConn puts Barnes in position to earn $50,000 more in bonuses this postseason. She already is set to receive at least $120,000 in bonuses for the Wildcats’ success in the NCAA Tournament.
She has earned $115,000 in bonuses thus far with an additional $5,000 from reaching 20 wins this season.
- $40,000 for Arizona making the Final Four with the Elite Eight win over Indiana.
- $30,000 for the Sweet 16 win over Texas A&M.
- $45,000 for beating Stony Brook and BYU in the first rounds.
She can earn another $50,000 if the Wildcats beat Stanford for the title.
She achieved the $5,000 bonus for reaching a 20th win of the season when the Wildcats (21-5) defeated Indiana in the Elite Eight. She gets a bonus of $5,000 for winning between 20 to 24 games in a season. .
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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.