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Roundtable: What was the greatest moment leading up to the Final Four game?

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Ana Beltran | The Daily Wildcat

Helena Pueyo (13) banging the drum after Friday night's game. The game on Feb. 14, 2020, resulted with the Wildcat's winning with a score of 64-53.

It's safe to say that the win over No. 1 seeded UConn in the Final Four on Friday, April 2 was the greatest game in Arizona women's basketball history. But what about the moments leading up to the historic night? 

Our Daily Wildcat Sports staff shared their favorite moment leading up to the Final Four.

Ari Koslow (@koslow_ari) - WNIT championship

My most memorable moment from this turnaround of the Arizona women's basketball program was the women's NIT championship win over Northwestern a couple of seasons ago. The crowd in McKale Center that night was electric and it really felt like the true turnaround of this program, leading to the success they have had both this season and even last season prior to the cancellation of the NCAA women's tournament. 

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Aari McDonald, Sam Thomas and Cate Reese, who are arguably the three most important players on this year's team, were involved in that game and I believe the continuity of the team that we have seen the last few years has played a huge part in how successful the team was this year. There were a couple of new players who have recently joined the team, but for the most part, the core that led this year's team have all played together in this program under Adia Barnes the last couple of seasons prior to this run. 

It will be interesting to see what happens in the future as most, if not all of these core players will be departing, but it is safe to say that this run will help the program in the future when it comes to recruiting and bringing in new players who can help keep this program trending in the right direction. 

Devin Homer (@DevinHomer) - Elite Eight win vs. Indiana

My favorite moment of the season was their Elite Eight victory over Indiana. This was their first trip to the Elite Eight in program history and they faced a team that already knocked off the No. 1 seed in their region. This game had an intensity to it that I haven’t seen in a long time. Trinity Baptiste would go down and score on the low block and would get back on defense and start clapping in the face of Indiana’s players and Indiana would go back down and score and would stare her down. Also, the complete game that McDonald had, scoring her tournament-high 33 points and racking up 11 rebounds. The thought of a 5-foot-6 point guard to out rebound both teams is insane to think about. The heart she plays with, to go and sacrifice her body to secure rebounds is amazing to watch as a fan of the game. Then, with seconds to play in the game, the raw emotion from the players sent chills throughout my body. To see how far they have come from, from their first victory against NAU where they looked shaky, to completing a goal that they only dreamed of. 

Jake Faigus (@jake_faigus) - Elite Eight win vs. Indiana

My absolute favorite moment was the win against Indiana. There have been amazing moments leading up to this game, but the most recent one is my favorite. It’s my favorite because it was a culmination of everything that Barnes, her staff and her players were all working and striving towards. Barnes was hired in 2016 to rebuild a program that had hit rock bottom at the time. Since Barnes is an alum, she understands the significance of this moment and what it took for everyone to get to this point. The game had everything that has made Arizona great under Barnes. The team played their hearts out, played great defense and also had a player that will never be duplicated in school history in McDonald. McDonald has been a defining player for Arizona and Barnes’ tenure, and her best game came when everything was on the line. Barnes can use this game as a recruiting tool now, and the program will be better for it. The game against Indiana signified a changing moment for the program. It sounded the alarm across the country that Arizona women’s college basketball is here, and it’s here to stay.

Sean Fagan (@SeanSoCal) - Trinity Baptiste vs. Stony Brook

One thing I value in life more than anything is hard work. I believe that you should work as hard as you can at everything you do, and you should love working hard. That is a quality perfectly exhibited in forward Baptiste. My favorite moment of the entire women’s basketball season was the team’s press conference before they played Stony Brook. 

I interviewed Baptiste and asked her what it meant to play in the NCAA tournament. Baptiste was excited because it is her senior year, and this will be her last shot at ever winning a title. She was also thrilled because going to the tournament meant that she would finally not have a spring break. What she meant was that every year her team would miss out on going to the tournament, so she would be stuck at home. Baptiste was tired of sitting around every spring. While other teams from all around the country were playing for history, Baptiste talked about how she would be at home watching on her couch. Eventually, she decided that enough was enough. 

Baptiste wanted to be playing and working hard at winning a title. She said she would work out harder and harder every year that she did not make the playoffs in hopes of making it one day. This spoke such volumes to me because many athletes do not have that mindset anymore. Most play for the fame, fortune and glory. Baptiste plays for the love of the game. Her passion and desire to become a champion really showed during that press conference. It also showed me that this team had the potential to go far because they have the right attitude. 

Seth Litwin (@seth_litwin) - Elite Eight win vs Indiana

Over the past couple years, this team has had a bunch of important wins to get them to where they are now, but none more important than their Elite Eight win against Indiana. At that point it was the biggest game in program history but yet people doubted them and they seemed written off. Even throughout this whole tournament Arizona has been this dark horse team that nobody expected to be this good despite being a great team all year. When it was known they would play Indiana in the Elite Eight, there was definitely some Big-10 bias in the national media and by the broadcasters during the game. Arizona took control of that game from the opening tip and star player McDonald proved why she is one of the best players in the country. The chip on this team's shoulder is growing everyday and I can't wait to see how they perform the rest of the way.

Bryan Savic (@bryan_savic) - Elite Eight win vs. Indiana

My favorite moment of the 2020-2021 season came literally this past Monday when Arizona defeated Indiana in convincing fashion in the Elite Eight. McDonald registered her second consecutive 30-point game in dominating fashion to propel her team to a milestone victory. I was holding my breath for the entire fourth quarter because both teams couldn’t create any separation in the first three quarters of play. It was great to see them go on a big run which saw them take a 10-point lead with approximately three minutes left in the game.

That is when it happened, with 2:35 remaining, McDonald went down and immediately grabbed her ankle. My heartbeat came to a screeching halt. Fearing the worse, I couldn’t help but think in the back of my mind that losing McDonald this deep into the tournament would have been bad luck a devastating blow for the team. Thankfully, the basketball gods were in San Antonio, Texas on Monday night and helped McDonald get back on her feet and finish the game strong. I completely lost it with a minute left, when she converted that wild 50/50 play for an and-one that more than sealed the Wildcats Final Four berth. I was in complete hysteria as I kept hearing Dick Vitale’s voice in my head for some reason.

Arizona’s Elite Eight win over Indiana will be a day that I will never forget. To be a part of something this special is hard to put into words. This especially considering that no one had Arizona making it this far into the tournament. It makes the feeling and magnitude of this moment all that sweeter. No matter what happens over the weekend, the players and coaches have made the University of Arizona, Tucson and their loved ones proud. 

Jordan White (@Jordan_white13) - Sweet Sixteen win over Texas A&M

Of all the memorable events that have taken place this season for the women’s basketball team, my favorite was the win in the Sweet Sixteen against the Texas A&M Aggies. The Aggies were the higher seed and favorite for most to win the game. But McDonald and the rest of the team could have cared less than what the media and fans though. They went out there and absolutely demolished the Aggies. They won 74-59 behind McDonald’s 31 points. She alone scored more than half the points the entire Aggies team scored. This was a statement win for the Wildcats and one that showed the rest of the tournament that they mean business. This team is scary because they have nothing to lose at all. Being the only team that is not a one seed in the Final Four, they are going to make waves and show the rest of the country that rankings do not matter. Just ask Texas A&M.


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