Arizona Women's Basketball

Arizona Wildcats rout NAU behind Adia Barnes’ influx of new talent

Adia Barnes giving out directions (Stephanie van Latum/Special to

Arizona is accustomed to winning season openers convincingly under Adia Barnes with each victory at McKale Center by double digits, including Thursday’s 113-56 drubbing of NAU.

The only sense of wonder in the openers over the last seven years is how many fans will show up to see what’s new that Barnes has to offer.

The 6,809 in attendance on Thursday night — the most to watch an opener at McKale in the history of the women’s program — saw Barnes’ overhaul of players on the team with only four regulars returning to the court from last season (the fifth, Lauren Ware, is out for the season with a knee injury).

One of Arizona’s three significant transfers — West Virginia forward Esmery Martinez — finished with 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field with 15 rebounds.

“She has quick hops and a nose for the ball — that’s instincts,” Barnes said of Martinez, a 6-foot-2 fluid forward, not defined by being strictly on the blocks. “Some people are just a natural rebounder. She reads the room well and just goes for it.”

Martinez averaged 11.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game for the Mountaineers as a junior last season. She committed to LSU after entering the transfer portal but changed her mind for Arizona.

“I’m always trying to work hard on my rebounds,” said Martinez, a Dominican Republic product who was an All-Big-12 selection as a sophomore at West Virginia. “I’m doing my job. I think that’s my job.”

The other incoming transfers — Lauren Fields of Oklahoma State and Jade Loville of ASU — were two of seven players to score in double figures. Fields had 12 points and Loville 11.

Freshmen Paris Clark, Kailyn Gilbert and Lemyah Hylton played most of the fourth quarter and Arizona outscored NAU 22-17 to close out the game.

The trio combined for 26 points on 11-of-20 shots from the field in the game.

“They didn’t look like they were nervous but they were,” Barnes said. “”You’re going to see better versions of them. … I think all the freshmen gave really good minutes.”

One of the standout freshmen, post player Maya Nnaji, did not play although she was medically cleared. Barnes kept her out of the game to rest her knee, which has tendinitis.

Shaina Pellington, a five-year veteran who finished with 20 points and seven assists without a turnover, said the freshmen “live up to their hype — I can tell you that.”

“They’re all phenomenal,” she continued. “That’s what makes this team special. We can pick anybody down the line on the bench. We can trust that they’re going to come in and do the job.”

Arizona newcomer Esmery Martinez (Stephanie van Latum, Special to

Arizona dominated the Lumberjacks in all phases, including shooting 53.8 percent from the field, 57.1 percent from 3-point range, 49-29 rebounding edge and 35-5 edge in points off turnovers.

Arizona’s 21-0 run in the second quarter, a stretch that included NAU’s first seven turnovers of the game, opened a 48-19 lead with 4:57 remaining in the half.

Pellington and Clark each had five points in the run and Helena Pueyo and Martinez each scored four.

Pueyo had nine points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field.

Cate Reese, Arizona’s fifth-year captain, had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Arizona led 56-26 by halftime over an NAU team that took ASU to the limit Monday before losing 69-68 at Tempe.

As the talent has grown and the climb toward Pac-12 supremacy has taken shape, the amount of fans has increased accordingly at McKale Center in the Barnes era.

Only 1,323 were in attendance at McKale Center for her first game as head coach on Nov. 13, 2016 — a 74-59 win over Alcorn State.

The attendance was 1,475 for the 2017-18 opener that was won 71-58 over Iona.

After the number dipped to 1,226 fans the following season for the 71-46 win over Idaho State, a crowd of 3,450 watched Arizona beat North Dakota 74-42 in the 2019-20 opener.

COVID-19 hit and no fans were in McKale Center on Nov. 29, 2020 when the Wildcats beat NAU 76-63.

The attendance jumped to 6,154 on Nov. 9 of last year when fans were finally allowed back into the arena following the pandemic and Arizona throttled Cal State Northridge 87-44.

The Wildcats play CSUN again at McKale Center on Sunday at 5 p.m.

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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