The Arizona women’s basketball team was welcomed back to Tucson in a celebration at Arizona Stadium on Monday afternoon after a historic season in which the Wildcats had the deepest NCAA tournament run in school history.
On the day after Arizona lost to Stanford 54-53 in the national championship game, hundreds of fans in Arizona Stadium were loud and proud of the Wildcats.
Speakers included University of Arizona president Robert Robbins, mayor of Tucson Regina Romero, Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke, head coach Adia Barnes, and players Sam Thomas and Aari McDonald.
Here are some highlights of the ceremony:
Robbins opened the event giving the Wildcats praise for a tremendous season.
“While many around the country didn’t believe in you, we all believed in you,” Robbins said. “Most importantly, you believed in yourself and you played like a great team.”
Robbins went on to thank Barnes, who starred at Arizona from 1994-98, for the coaching job she put together this season.
“It does start with leadership. Coach Barnes, thank you for bringing your talents back home to Tucson,” said Robbins.
Romero went on to congratulate the Wildcats for their performance in the NCAA tournament.
“You made us so proud,” Romero said. “The journey there, what you mean to the city of Tucson, Arizona, is unbelievable. We are so proud of you.”
Romero also commended Barnes for the culture she has built in the Arizona women’s basketball program.
“Coach Barnes, we welcome a new era in Tucson: The U of A women’s basketball era of Adia Barnes,” said Romero.
Barnes was upbeat after the reception from the audience and explained her emotions.
“This is like a bittersweet moment, we’re proud of all our hard work, and then we’re sad, but then we come to Tucson and our hearts are full,” Barnes said.
Barnes went on to thank the Arizona fans for all of their support this season.
“Thank you for loving us, thank you for supporting us, thank you for doing this. This means a lot, our hearts are heavy right now,” said Barnes.
“We lost on a last-second shot, so this is a hard day for us. But when we see this, our hearts are full and I want you to know that we love and appreciate you, and you are the best fans in the world. I’m speaking for everyone.”
When it was her turn to speak, McDonald complimented her teammates for an amazing season.
“I believe in these ladies behind me, they worked hard and they stepped up at the right time,” said McDonald. “They were perfecting their roles and they’ve been a great supporting cast for me and it’s been a pleasure playing with them.”
Getting the loudest reception from the fans in the audience during the ceremony, Thomas announced that she will take advantage of her final year of eligibility and return to play for Arizona next season.
“I love you guys so much, this has been a great journey with my teammates, and I’m gonna come back for one more year,” Thomas said.
Arizona fans can rest easy after hearing that statement.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. He is currently attending Pima Community College where he writes for the Aztec Press. Next semester he will be attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU where he will work towards a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.