Arizona women’s basketball team head coach Adia Barnes and senior forward Sam Thomas held a press conference over Zoom on Wednesday, Feb. 24 ahead of their final regular-season game on Sunday, Feb. 28 against their in-state rival, the Arizona State Sun Devils.
The Wildcats are fresh off of a tough loss to the No. 4 Stanford Cardinal. Though this loss hurts, the Wildcats are still in a position to finish with this season very strongly. They are currently the No. 9 team in the nation and are in second place in the Pac-12.
With both the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments quickly approaching, the Wildcats have high hopes for what they can accomplish. Only the Sun Devils lie ahead of their quest for glory.
“If we want to make noise in the tournament, if we want to be able to do those things, we have to be able to win the games we are supposed to,” Barnes said. “We should win that game, we’re supposed to. I think that anybody can win on any given night in the Pac-12. No doubt we respect ASU regardless; we respect everybody we play, and you also have to take it more seriously because it’s a rival. Everybody steps up more for their rival. But we have to do the things we’re supposed to do to be good.”
Here are a few takeaways from the rest of the press conference.
What the team needs to do to win the big games
Stanford is one of the nation's best teams. When the NCAA tournament begins, there is a chance for the Wildcats to play other elite programs.
After losing to Stanford, coach Barnes did not seem worried about playing other high-caliber teams. She credited the loss to the team's inability to take and make smart shots as well as other self-inflicted mistakes such as not boxing out and creating opportunities for the other team.
“These are mistakes that you can make against Cal, ASU, Colorado,” Barnes said. “You can’t make those against the Stanfords, the UConns, the Louisvilles and win a game. So that’s the teaching step that I have to show. But the other stuff, we put in the work, we do all the things, we just have to do it.”
The players agree with their coach as well. They know how much potential they have, it’s just a matter of them tapping into this potential when they’re on the court.
“I think just put together 40 minutes of great basketball,” Thomas said. “I feel like sometimes we get in lags where we either can’t score or can’t get a stop. So I think we really have to focus on getting those scores for us and then being able to convert on defense and get a stop so we’re not trading baskets or not getting baskets at all for ourselves.”
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Last regular-season games for the seniors
For any team, no matter the sport or level of competition, everyone knows how important the veteran players are. They provide experience and wisdom for the younger players. They also have the ability to remain calm in tough situations because for many of them, they have been in that moment before.
For the Wildcats, these veterans are seniors Thomas, Trinity Baptiste and Aari McDonald. Not only are these three crucial to the team’s locker room environment, but they are three of the best players on the court as well. Although the NCAA eligibility rules allow for all three of them to return next season, Sunday’s game could be the last regular-season game of their collegiate careers.
“I haven’t even thought about that,” Barnes said. “It’s funny because it doesn’t feel like that right now. Senior day didn’t feel like senior day, it did a little bit. It's just different. ... It’s sad because those are three great kids. Hopefully we’ll get one of them back or maybe two back, but it’s tough.”
Many players across the nation opted out of playing due to health concerns, so the NCAA decided to be reasonable and provide them with a chance to get back what they missed out on.
Coach Barnes only mentioned the chance of getting two players back due to the success of McDonald. She is considered one of the nation’s top players, and it is almost certain that she will be drafted very early in the upcoming WNBA’s draft.
Recent dominance over ASU
Until a couple of years ago, the rivalry between these top schools in the Grand Canyon State seemed to be in favor of the Sun Devils. From 1973 to now, the series record stands at 36-61 in favor of ASU.
However, the Wildcats have now won their last three meetings against their rival. This Sunday Feb. 28, they will have the opportunity to sweep ASU in back-to-back seasons, something the Wildcats have not done since the 1998-99/1999-00 seasons.
“That definitely means a lot,” said Thomas. “It always feels good to get a sweep, but also when it’s against your rival school. From the growth that we’ve had from my freshman year, it’ll definitely feel amazing to be able to end this season with a sweep.”
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