Arizona Women's Basketball

Bond between Adia Barnes, Aari McDonald will continue to impact Arizona


Adia Barnes winked at Aari McDonald and smiled, not before the game or at halftime away from the court, but in the heat of the battle against Stanford with the national title on the line.

When McDonald picked up her third foul with 3:11 remaining in the third quarter, she immediately looked toward Barnes at the bench and motioned with her hands to leave her in the game.

That’s when Barnes gave McDonald the wink and smile and left her All-American guard in the game.

Arizona trailed by only five points at that time.

“Our relationship was built on trust,” McDonald said, fighting through tears, after her last-second 3-point shot was just off the mark in Arizona’s 54-53 loss to the Cardinal on Sunday at the Alamodome at San Antonio.

“We both value being relational. That means a lot. She’s helped me grow. I think I’ve helped her grow in many ways, as well.”

Lute Olson’s strong relationship with Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott, two of the best leaders he coached in his 24 years at Arizona, developed a base of trust for those who followed. The development of Kerr and Elliott with Olson as their coach left an imprint on a program that reached four Final Fours and achieved a national title in 1997 under the Hall of Fame coach.

The bond between Barnes and McDonald carries that same weight.

McDonald will always be thought of as one of the greatest to wear an Arizona uniform in any sport. The coach who brought her to Arizona and became like a big sister to her will also harken to what McDonald means to her building a winner from now until her last day as Arizona’s coach.

Their relationship was built starting when Barnes recruited McDonald from Bullard High School in Fresno, Calif., to play at Washington in 2016, the year Barnes was an assistant coach for the Huskies’ first Final Four team.

Aari McDonald and her coach Adia Barnes won a WNIT title and competed for an NCAA championship together (ESPN screen shot)

McDonald took a leap of faith to join Barnes at Arizona, which went 6-24 in 2017-18, the season she sat out because of NCAA transfer rules.

“I’m proud that I coached her,” Barnes said. “I’m proud she chose me twice. I’m proud she came to Arizona to do something special when we weren’t good. We were probably 300-something RPI.

“For her to come here and come back when she could have gone pro (after last season), then to lead us to the national championship and be one shot away from winning it all, I mean, she’s amazing.”

McDonald, bound for the WNBA as a very high draft choice, said she is thankful for what Barnes has meant to her during her formative years as a player.

Tucson, the Arizona fanbase, the Pac-12 and the nation are thankful for what both mean to women’s basketball this season and beyond. Arizona’s first NCAA tournament appearance in 16 years and its first trip to the Final Four and national title game captivated the nation.

“She gave me the key. She really trusted me,” McDonald said of Barnes. “Coming in, she told me what my role would be on the team. I’m just really thankful for her. She’s put me in great positions and helped contribute to my success.”

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Sam Thomas and Trinity Baptiste are fellow seniors who have not announced their final plans of whether they will return in 2021-22. Thomas was asked if she was ready to announce her decision after Sunday’s game by Jay Gonzales of “Eye on the Ball” radio show on Fox Sports 1450-AM. “Definitely still thinking about it,” Thomas said. “I would consider this a high even though we didn’t end up winning. We made history. We always say leave a legacy and I think I left a legacy on this program.”

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Stanford guard Kiana Williams embraced McDonald just seconds after McDonald missed the last second shot. “She’s just a great player. After the game, I just congratulated her on leading her team to the national championship game when nobody thought they would do it. I just congratulated her on an excellent career. She’s really turned around the Arizona program. It was really inspiring to watch from a distance.”

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Stanford Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer lauded Arizona and Barnes, who she takes pride mentoring as somebody who has been a coach for 42 years while her understudy completed her fifth season. “The Arizona team was really tough. Again, Adia and her staff, they just built on their confidence, just built and built and built throughout the tournament,” VanDerveer said. “The fact that we’d beaten them twice, quite honestly at Arizona we beat them very badly, it’s a real credit to their team and staff. They played great.”

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Arizona is planning a celebration to welcome the team back to Tucson on Monday. The event will culminate at Arizona Stadium beginning at 11:15 a.m. Gates open at 10 a.m. The entry gates are Gate 2, Gate 3, Gate 4, and Gate 6. Fans should park in South Stadium Garage or South of Sixth Street lots. The university is asking that all attendees arrive from the south to avoid congesting traffic at the university’s COVID-19 vaccination P.O.D. located on the University Mall between Cherry and Campbell. Attendance will be limited to 15% capacity in Arizona Stadium (about 8,000 to 9,000 fans). Fans will be expected to maintain proper social distancing measures throughout Arizona Stadium. Seating will be restricted to the East side of the stadium.  Members of a family can be grouped together and must keep a 6-foot radius from other individuals. Attendees will be required to follow all campus protocols including wearing masks and social distancing. The ‘Welcome Back’ event will be live streamed on the Arizona Athletics Facebook page.

This event is being hosted in coordination with the Pima County Health Department, the University of Arizona and Arizona Athletics. While in attendance at Arizona Stadium, all fans will be required to follow University of Arizona campus protocols as well as state and local health guidelines, which include but are not limited to:

  • Wearing a mask at all times
  • Successfully Completing the University of Arizona’s Daily Wellness Check on the day of the event prior to arriving and showing completion to event staff before entering the facility. Additional Wellness Check assistance will be available at entry gates as needed.
  • To expedite entry, please limit bringing bags to the event. Fans will need to adhere to the Arizona Athletics clear bag policy
  • Sitting in the designated seating areas while maintaining social distancing at all times except for the use of restrooms

Arizona requests that all fans planning to attend, RSVP by clicking here so it can plan accordingly.


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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.

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