Year That Was 2021

Year That Was: April’s Top Five Developments in Southern Arizona



Adia Barnes embraces Aari McDonald during Arizona’s remarkable run through the NCAA tournament (Arizona Athletics photo)

The team that was overlooked looked over a fallen women’s basketball giant it knocked out. Arizona, fueled by being the only Final Four team omitted from an NCAA promotional video, dominated a UConn program in its 13th straight Final Four with a 69-59 victory on April 2 to advance to the national championship against Stanford. Arizona tried to complete an epic run beating two women’s college basketball giants — UConn and Stanford — in the Final Four to achieve the unthinkable. The Wildcats, in their first NCAA Tournament in 16 years, came an off-balance 3-point attempt by Aari McDonald at the buzzer from living out a dream. Stanford, the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament, escaped with a 54-53 win April 4 at the Alamodome at San Antonio. McDonald, drawing triple teams most of the game, could not get a good look on the 3-pointer but the ball did meet the back of the rim. The ball just didn’t fall. “Aari is a tremendous player,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said to ESPN after the game. “We’re fortunate to come out with a win.” The mighty Huskies with Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma also had their 18-game winning streak snapped by McDonald and the Miracles (line stolen from our own Steve Rivera) a la Danny Manning and the Miracles that won the national title for the Kansas men in 1988. “Arizona played amazing,” Auriemma said. “It was incredibly difficult for us to get anything done. and I thought the intensity level that they played with and the aggressiveness on the defensive end, we just didn’t respond.” Arizona returned to Tucson on April 5 after its Final Four experience and was welcomed by a large gathering of fans at Arizona Stadium.


Sean Miller was 302-102 with three Elite Eight appearances in his 12 years as Arizona’s coach (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona announced on April 7 that it was parting ways with coach Sean Miller after 12 seasons as the head basketball coach. During Miller’s time at Arizona, he was 302-102 while winning five conference titles, three Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards with seven NCAA tournament appearances, including five Sweet Sixteens and three Elite Eights. Over the last three seasons, while dealing with the FBI investigation into the corruption of college basketball, Miller was 55-35, including missing the 2021 NCAA tournament due to self-imposed sanctions. “After conferring with Dave Heeke since the season’s end, it has become clear that our men’s basketball program – and our University – needs to write a new chapter in our history, and that begins with a change of leadership,” said Arizona president Robert C. Robbins in a release. “Arizona Basketball means so much to so many and, as stewards of the program, we must always act in the best interests of the university. I believe our future is bright, and I look forward to welcoming a new head coach to the Wildcat family.” Miller said in a statement, “It was an honor to be the head basketball coach at the University of Arizona. Over the last twelve years, Tucson, Arizona became our home. It’s where our three sons grew up and attended the University of Arizona. It’s also the place that we made friendships that will last a lifetime.”


Tommy Lloyd at his first Arizona practice (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona hired longtime Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd, 46, on April 14 to replace Miller as the head coach. He beat out a host of former Arizona players for the job, including names like Josh Pastner (Georgia Tech), Damon Stoudamire (Pacific) and Miles Simon (Lakers assistant). Lloyd is the first assistant coach Arizona has hired since Fred Snowden in 1972. “While there are certainly potential obstacles ahead for our program, I embrace the challenge as we will build on the foundation in place to compete for Pac-12 and national championships,” Lloyd said in a statement. “I know how much Arizona Basketball means to the institution, its fans, its community and the state, and I cannot wait to get started. That works begin now. My family and I are excited to settle in Tucson and begin a new chapter.” Lloyd retained Arizona star Jason Terry on his staff as well as associate head coach Jack Murphy, an Arizona graduate who was the director of basketball operations under Lute Olson. Kerr Kriisa also removed himself from the transfer portal and announced he was staying with the Wildcats.


Aari McDonald is the highest drafted player in Arizona history (Atlanta Dream graphic)

Aari McDonald was selected as the No. 3 pick in the WNBA draft by the Atlanta Dream on April 15. She is the highest drafted player in the history of Arizona women’s basketball. McDonald took Arizona from the depths of 12 losing seasons in 13 years and no NCAA tournament appearances since 2005 to its highest ground in her three-year career. Arizona achieved its loftiest ranking (No. 6) in program history this season and the Wildcats advanced to their first Final Four and national championship game. McDonald was not named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, but she certainly was worthy. Chris Paul tweeted: “Excited to watch Aari McDonald in the W(NBA)….watched her in the ncaa tournament and she is tough!!!!!” Hillary Clinton said after the national title game that McDonald is “amazing.” Said McDonald of what her lofty draft selection means to Arizona: “I’m paving the way for all the future Wildcats out there.”


Tedy Bruschi and Rob Gronkowski made the Arizona spring game extra special (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona’s spring football game April 24 was a rousing success for new coach Jedd Fisch because of all the circumstances surrounding the event with Rob Gronkowski and Tedy Bruschi serving has honorary coaches. Our Steve Rivera wrote: “The only thing Jedd Fisch lost on Saturday afternoon was the water balloon fight he had with the Arizona students on the sidelines at Arizona Stadium. The rest, well, was a splash. It’s clear that Fisch has put the FUN back into the fundamentals when it comes to Arizona football. It was a world record-breaking weekend for the Wildcats. Literally. From Gronk’s epic 620-foot catch of a football out of helicopter to the 5,000 or so sunbaked fans in Arizona Stadium, it was like no Arizona Spring Game that I remember. Heck, it beat the alternative of the past few hum drum years.”

NEXT: A look at the top five developments of May 2021

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FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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

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