Arizona Women's Basketball

Adia Barnes isn’t satisfied with second place: Get your tickets now

Practice in the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium. (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson)

Adia Barnes isn’t satisfied with a run to the top of the NCAA podium and she’s hoping Arizona fans won’t settle for anything less than to be the team holding the championship trophy. A 54-53 loss to Stanford in the title game last year ended a magical year for the Wildcats, but it was only magic to those who were unable to catch much of the action in person due to COVID protocols. It was far from magic.

What Barnes, and her team led by All-American Aari McDonald, did last year could be seen early on in the regular season in what was mostly an empty McKale Center. The dozen or so people watching and reporting in the arena, that sits over 14,000 spectators, saw a team destined to do some good things, some great things, but no one knew exactly how great. Barnes employed ever-shifting lineups that would eventually payoff in huge dividends. Her teaching skills were evident and common coaching frustrations turned into moments that helped define a program on the rise.

“I’m excited about the momentum we have and I’m excited for the chance for us to play in front of a true McKale crowd and be really exciting and I think we have a lot of talent,” Barnes said. “I’m not gonna make any promises as to how it will be or where are we going to finish but I think that we have a chance to be really good.

“We did something amazing last year. I think it was a very tough year with COVID and different things. I think that this year is gonna be really different and I think it’s very different being the hunter than hunting. So I think that the standards are really high and expectations and high, so we have to step up to the plate. So I’m curious to see how we’re going to respond.”

Barnes brought in a lot of new faces and two of those are familiar to fans who follow the Arizona high school scene including Madison Conner. Conner started out at Gilbert Perry High School and she finished out her prep career at Chandler AZ Compass Prep. If you can recall, Conner made the switch from high school to college athlete in mid-season and that 17-year-old be benefited from the NCAA not counting last year towards eligibility. Despite seeing court time, Conner will still be a freshman this fall.


Madison Conner. (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson)

Q: One day you’re walking the hallways of a high school and four days later, you’re going to a top college program and you had to basically grow up pretty quickly.

A: Last year was very difficult for me. I mean, I’m 17 moving into an apartment by myself, trying to figure out how do I pay bills? How do I get groceries, myself? All that stuff was very difficult, but I feel like my teammates helped me throughout that as well as my parents, they did a really good job. So I mean, it was difficult, but the basketball part too, it kind of was like a shell shock, like, oh, wow. Everybody’s so much stronger, faster, way more educated in basketball. Their IQ is way better, but I definitely was just on fire. I had to figure it out.

Q: Then you found yourself on a national championship team.

A: Yeah. It was crazy. I would have never expected that. I would have never expected that at the end of January, I’d be moving in and then in March we’re playing in a national championship. So it was a great experience and I definitely took in every little bit.

Q: When did you realize this is it – I made the right choice?

A: I’d say right from the jump. I mean, I’ve been, I was on campus a whole bunch because I’m from Arizona. So I was here all the time, so I kinda knew what I was like coming into and the coaches really helped me out and showed me this is what I’m here for and what they said in the recruiting process was pretty straightforward.

Q: Coach Barnes mentioned that you’re a leader. Have you thought about coaching in the future?

A: I’ll just say that I’m like a natural leader. I’m very vocal and not scared so I definitely have thought about coaching and I think that is something that I would really enjoy doing. I really try to understand what they’re (coaches) saying, not just listen on the surface, but really try to understand what they’re saying and why they’re saying.

WHAT ADIA BARNES SAYS: “When she’s not good at something she asked how she can improve and I love that. I saw the growth in her or when she came until now. She really stepped up as one of the leaders. So she’s someone who I want to teach how to lead. And I think she’s someone I’ll bring along to fill a leadership role later, but she has the qualities for that. So that’s how much she’s came along. So I love the fact that I am seeing that a freshman because the future is promising us. When you see that because that’s hard. You don’t, you can’t teach that stuff. So you either have those qualities or you don’t.”


Taylor Chavez. (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson)

The other big catch from the state of Arizona is one of the best high school players to come out in former Valley Vista standout Taylor Chavez. Chavez is a former Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year and she helped turn Valley Vista into a state power before moving over to play for Oregon where she earned Pac-12 honors as the top reserve in the conference. Chavez will have two more years if she chooses after she transferred to play for Arizona this year.

Q: Talk to me a little bit about Valley Vista. Now it’s a power house and you were a big part of that. Have you been keeping track of that?

A: Absolutely. I have a really close relationship with coach (Rachel) Matakas and we talk pretty often. Whenever I come home I’ll train with some of their high school girls and work out at the school. I’ve definitely followed and I would watch their state championship games last year and the year before on my phone when I was back in Oregon. I’m just so excited that she’s bought that program to be one of the most where programs in Arizona. And she does a great job with their kids and it’s fun to watch knowing that I was kind of helped with that foundation there.

Q: Then you go to Oregon and you’re honored by the Pac-12 and you make a Final Four, but now you’re coming to school that just came back from a Final Four so tell me about all of that emotion.

A: It’s very exciting. I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of great programs from high school club, Oregon and here. So it was exciting knowing that I would just have to find ways to fit in and contribute to these great programs and that’s exciting for me, especially, and that’s even more exciting knowing that I’m back home in Arizona, being able to play in front of my family, They never had the opportunity to come to some games this year. So it’s exciting being that.

Q: And w what are your plans after basketball?

A: Honestly, I’m not quite sure. Yeah. I know. I definitely would want to stick around the sport, whether that would be high school coaching, professionally, just being in an office, whether it be like the business side of sports, but I know no matter what I’ll be around sports, but it depends on how it’s shakes out, how long I’ll play professionally.

WHAT ADIA BARNES SAYS: “She’s a great shooter. She’s smart. She came from a championship team. Knows how to win. I think she can really help us in a lot of different ways. She knows what it takes to be successful and a lot of people don’t know that. She works hard. She’s a great teammate. She does her job. So I was really, really excited when we added her.”


Sam Thomas. (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson)

With McDonald in the WNBA, the court leadership falls to a handful of experienced players including Sam Thomas who is one of two grad students on the Wildcat roster. Thomas will be writing a weekly column for AllSportsTucson this season:

Q: So you’re a graduate and now you’re the leader of this team. Tell me what your emotions are for this year.

A: I’m excited. It’s my last year, so I want to just enjoy every day, every practice, give it my all. Just being here for the team, leave everything out there.

Q: When you first came to Arizona here you expecting all this?

A: Definitely not, especially coming in, you know, as a freshman, I didn’t know what to expect. Then after my first year only winning six games, I thought we would progressively get better, which we have, but I didn’t know it would be this tremendous that we would get that much better.

Q: I see Arizona had you represent the school recently. Is administration something you’ve thought about like being an athletic director?

A: Well, it’s funny cause I actually never thought about it, but I’m doing an internship with the communications team. I’ve got to learn like kind of behind the scenes of what happens with athletics and I’m kind of really interested in it now. So now I’m kind of like, what is my career path after basketball?

Q: There’s a path there with former athletes turned administrators in Rocky LaRose and Erika Barnes. Have you spoken to any of them about the opportunity?

A: We actually had an alumni call a couple of months ago, I think the beginning of the year and they were actually on the call so got to speak to them as a team. I didn’t really have a one-on-one, but I know eventually that connection will be there and we’ll probably set it up for me.

Q: You’re going to be writing a weekly column for us so tell me what people can expect.

A: I’m super excited. I’ve never even done anything like this. I’m excited just to get like kind of like the background perspective, obviously not anything crazy but just like what happened at practice? Like someone had a hilarious moment or you know, what’s happening in my life personally. Just so everyone can get a little bit.



Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee and he earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater. Contact Andy Morales at

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