On Monday, March 15, the NCAA was putting together the brackets for the 2021 women’s basketball championship tournament. The Wildcats watched the jumbotron anxiously inside an empty McKale Center, hoping to see their names appear. Suddenly the brackets were revealed, and the Wildcats got the call.
The Arizona women’s basketball team was selected as the No. 3 seed for the NCAA championship tournament in San Antonio, Texas. The Wildcats will appear in the tournament for the first time in 16 years. Even with an early exit loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament, the Wildcats proved to everyone that they are still a force to be reckoned with. They have the heart, passion and talent to bring home the title.
“It is a blessing,” point guard Aari McDonald said. “We just put in all the hard work and it is finally paying off. I think this year we actually have the right pieces to actually go far and make a run … and I’m just going to take in the moment and enjoy it.”
McDonald has experienced this moment before, making a Sweet-16 appearance when she was a member of the Washington Huskies. Now that she is with Arizona, she is hoping that her experience can play a factor.
“I hope the experience from my previous team rubs off on my teammates,” McDonald said. “I am also hoping to bring my leadership [to the tournament].”
Another Wildcat hoping to contribute is forward Trinity Baptiste. Even though she has never competed in the playoffs, Baptiste has not stopped that from motivating her. Baptiste is tired of spending the month of March at home.
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“I have always had a spring break … and I have never wanted a spring break,” Baptiste said. “Now that I have the opportunity as a senior, I am just super excited.”
Even in her excitement, Baptiste knows that they are nowhere near their goal.
“I feel that we really have not done anything yet,” Baptiste said. “My standards are high for myself, for my teammates and my coaches. We know how far we want to go … and until we prove it, I don’t believe we have reached our goal yet.”
McDonald and Baptiste have those winning attitudes that players need to carry them far. Their talent and character are factors that can be attributed to head coach Adia Barnes. Barnes has built a team culture with the Wildcats, showing that it is not just about one player, but all of them.
“It is more about us than it is about the opponent,” Barnes said. “That’s how we’ve been all year and it has worked pretty well.”
What has also worked well for the Wildcats is being used to a quick turnaround, something that Arizona will face if they make a deep playoff run.
Barnes feels that playing in the Pac-12 gives them an advantage that others will not have.
“We are prepared for what it is like on the road and being in hotels on lockdown,” Barnes said. “Other teams are not. They fly in the same day or they go in for a game and leave, so I think there is an advantage.”
Arizona will head to San Antonio, Texas to face No. 14-seed Stoney Brook in the Alamodome on Monday, March 22, at 11 a.m. MST.
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