PLEASE NOTE THAT IF ATTENDING FRIDAY NIGHT’S GAME, YOU MUST WEAR SURGICAL MASKS OR PROCEDURE MASKS OR BETTER TO ENTER MCKALE CENTER. THAT CAN INCLUDE N95, KN95 and KF95 RESPIRATORS.
After playing games in three straight days in the Paradise Jam at the Virgin Islands at the end of November, No. 4 Arizona has played only three games in the last month.
The unbeaten Wildcats (10-0) have not played in three weeks since the Dec. 17 win at NAU that preceded canceled or postponed games against Texas, USC and UCLA because of COVID-19 protocol.
They return to McKale Center on Friday night for the first time in 26 days for their Pac-12 opener at 6 against Washington State with a special occasion planned for three-time All-American and program figurehead Aari McDonald honored after the game with her name officially inducted into Arizona’s Ring of Honor.
“I’m just excited that we’re going to play again; it’s been a long time, we haven’t played in what feels like a year,” said Arizona coach Adia Barnes, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 before the scheduled game with Texas. “I am excited to get our team going. We’re prepared now and ready to play our games.”
The Wildcats, with their highest ranking in the regular season in program history, face a Washington State team that is 9-4 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-12 after losing three of its last four games including an 82-44 loss at home against Stanford on Sunday.
The Cougars did accomplish an impressive 51-49 win at Gonzaga on Dec. 8.
The game will be televised live on Pac-12 Networks and will be broadcast live on radio at KTUC (1400-AM).
Arizona’s injured post player Lauren Ware (dislocated knee) has been out since Arizona’s last home game Dec. 12 against New Mexico. She has worn a knee brace on her right leg. She could be available because Barnes made the comment before the trip to NAU that Ware might be cleared to play after 10 days and that period would have been to late December.
Arizona — Barnes can achieve her 100th win at Arizona on Friday night in her sixth season at her alma mater. Her record is 99-66 (which is also her career mark). Making that record especially impressive is the fact that Barnes started 20-40 in her first two seasons of rebuilding the program. She could reach 100 wins faster than any other coach in program history at 166 games. Joan Bonvincini, who will do the color commentary for the broadcast of this game on Pac-12 Networks, is the current record holder at 181 games.
Washington State — Kamie Ethridge is 124-101 in eight seasons at Northern Colorado and Washington State. Her record with the Cougars is 41-57 in her fourth season. She went to a Sweet 16 with Kansas State and a Final Four with Vanderbilt as an assistant.
WHEN ARIZONA HAS THE BALL
— Arizona senior forward Sam Thomas leads the Pac-12 with a 3.8 assist/turnover ratio (23 assists, six turnovers) while sophomore guard Helena Pueyo is seventh at 2.6 (team-high 29 assists with 11 turnovers).
— Freshman reserve post player Aaronette Vonleh ranks third in the Pac-12 with a 63.8 field-goal percentage.
— Cate Reese can enter Arizona’s top 10 career scoring list on Friday night with 14 points (she’s at 1,286 through 105 games). She would also become the 10th Wildcat to reach 1,300 career points.
— The Wildcats rank second in the Pac-12 with 17.5 assists per game. Eight different Wildcats are averaging at least 5.0 points per game, making them one of just three teams in the league with at least eight players averaging five or more points.
— The Cougars rank 19th in the nation in blocks with 68. Junior forward Bella Murekatete leads her team with 16, which ranks No. 25 in the nation.
— Washington State has the No. 45 scoring defense in the nation allowing 57.9 points a game. Only three teams have scored 64 or more points against the Cougars this season.
WHEN WASHINGTON STATE HAS THE BALL
— The Leger-Walker sisters are back and as effective as ever. Sophomore guard Charlisse Leger-Walker leads the Pac-12 with 226 points (17.4 average), which ranks No. 39 nationally. Last season, she became the first freshman in conference history to end the regular season as the league’s top point scorer with 434 points. Fifth-year redshirt senior Krystal Leger-Walker is third in the Pac-12 with 4.5 assists per game with a streak of 77 straight games with at least one assist dating to her career at Northern Colorado.
— Washington State ranks second in the Pac-12 in 3-point field goals made with 87. Charlisse Leger-Walker has made 30, ranking third in the conference. The Cougars have struggled for the most part beyond the arc, however, converting only 30.7 percent of their shots (87 of 283).
— Arizona ranks top-25 nationally in a number of defensive categories, as of Tuesday. Arizona is sixth in field goal
percentage defense (33.0), seventh in scoring defense (49.7), 11th in blocked shots per game (6.2) and 11th in steals
per game (12.9).
— Pueyo also leads Arizona with 23 steals while Bendu Yeaney has recorded 22.
— Thomas is second in blocked shots with 14, behind Ware’s 17. Thomas’ 183 blocked shots in 135 games ranks second in Arizona history behind the late Shawntinice Polk, who had 222 blocked shots in 94 games from 2003-05.
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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District