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How they got there: A complete recap of the 2020-21 Arizona women's basketball season

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Caitlin Claypool | The Daily Wildcat Women’s basketball staff and team members cheer and chant at a “welcome home” rally on Monday, Apr. 5 in Tucson, Ariz. The Wildcats made history by competing in the NCAA championship the previous weekend.

The Arizona women’s basketball team has had a season for the ages. The Wildcats opened up the year ranked No. 7 in the nation, the highest preseason rankings in school history. They were predicted to finish second in the Pac-12 with eight players returning from the previous season and adding six newcomers. 

The Wildcats opened up the season against NAU which should have been a pretty easy game before conference play. Arizona did not play in 266 days and that showed, as they only led by six points at half-time. Once the half was over, Arizona opened it up to a double-digit lead in the third quarter, and they won the game 76-63. 

In the second game of the season, the Wildcats had a big matchup against No. 9 UCLA. This game was a dog fight; both teams went back and forth, but Arizona won their second game of the season 68-65 and went to 1-0 in Pac-12 play. 

After their big victory over a top-10 opponent, Arizona had to play its rival Arizona State. They quickly turned their rival game into a rout as they steamrolled ASU 65-37 behind their star Aari McDonald. After the game, Arizona won the next three and improved its record to 7-0 and 5-0 in the Pac-12. 

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Arizona then faced their toughest competition of the season so far, as they faced the No. 1 team in the country Stanford. Stanford came out and showed exactly why they were No. 1 in the country, who held a 24-point lead over the Wildcats going into the half and continued it in the second half, handing Arizona its first loss of the season, 81-54. 

Arizona took this game personally and went back to work. The Wildcats bounced back and beat Cal big, 69-33. The problem was, their momentum died after this one game as they went to Pullman, Washington and faced Washington State. 

This game ended up going into overtime and Charlisse Leger-Walker hit a layup at the buzzer as time expired, giving Arizona its second loss of the season. The only consistent player was McDonald, who had 23 points and seven assists. The problem with this game was Arizona only had nine assists. Their record was then 8-2 and 6-2 in Pac-12 play. 

A couple of Arizona stars hit huge milestones on the same night as McDonald scored her 2,000 career points and Cate Reese scored her 1,000 career points in a game against Utah where they won 66-54. 

RELATED: Sam Thomas is the glue that keeps Arizona women's basketball together

Arizona showed dominance over Oregon on ESPN in their season series. In their first matchup, Arizona won the game 57-41. In the second game, Arizona showed they had Oregon’s number and won by 20 points and improved their record to 12-2 and 10-2 in the Pac-12. 

Arizona was riding a four-game winning streak at that time as they looked to have redemption against Washington State. Arizona had a lot more focus in this game as they showed they were the better team and defeated Washington State, 60-51. 

The win streak had grown to seven and they faced No. 4 Stanford again. They needed to prove to everyone that they can take the next step as a team. Arizona still fell to Stanford but looked a lot better than they did in their first matchup. McDonald scored 20 points as their record was now 15-3 and 13-3 in the Pac-12. 

After this game, they looked to complete the sweep against Arizona State and end the regular season on a high note. The Wildcats did not look as dominant like they did in their previous matchup. The game went into overtime and Arizona State made the right plays to knock off the No. 9 ranked Wildcats 66-64. This game ended the regular season for the Wildcats as their record was 15-4 and 13-4 in the Pac-12.

Arizona finished second in the Pac-12 and had a first-round bye. In the second round of the Pac-12 tournament, Arizona faced Washington State. Earlier in the year, Arizona had split the season series against the Cougars, but both of these programs have gotten better since their previous two matchups. 

The Wildcats showed their growth and dominated Washington State 60-44 and looked to replicate the same game plan for their next matchup against UCLA. This game ended up being a defensive matchup as Arizona seemed like they could not get anything going, scoring under 50 points for the second time of the season. They ended up losing the game by nine points.

Arizona was well represented in the Pac-12 awards, as McDonald won the Pac-12 Player of the Year and the Pac-12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year. McDonald, Reese and Sam Thomas were a part of the All-Pac-12 team. McDonald and Thomas were a part of the All-Defensive Pac-12 team. Trinity Baptiste was a part of the All-Pac-12 honorable mention, and Lauren Ware was awarded the Pac-12 All-Freshman honorable mention. 

On March 15, the team piled into McKale Center, waiting for their name to be called to see their seeding in the NCAA Tournament. They ended up being the No. 3 seed in the Mercado Region and were set to face No. 14 Stony Brook. 

On March 18, head coach Adia Barnes signed a contract extension that would keep her with the team through the 2026 season. 

RELATED: Arizona athletes and coaches react to Arizona women's basketball's historic season

Arizona opened up the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a dominant showing over Stony Brook, 79-44. The Wildcats looked like they could not miss with nine players on the Wildcats’ roster registering points in the game. They were led by their second-team All-American McDonald who scored 20 points.

They then faced BYU in the Round of 32 which would be a game all about defense. Arizona went into the fourth quarter with a tie game but the Wildcats were able to make the right plays and advance to their first Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1998. 

They then had to face a tough Texas A&M team, who had a record of 25-2 in the regular season. Arizona looked dominant again as they opened up a double-digit lead in the second half behind, riding on the shoulders of McDonald, who scored 31 points and hit six of the Wildcats’ 13 three-pointers.

Arizona then faced uncharted territory as it appeared in its first Elite Eight in program history against Indiana. McDonald looked unstoppable again in this game as she scored her tournament-high 33 points and hit five three-pointers and defeated Indiana, 66-53 to advance to their first-ever Final Four where they faced UConn on Friday, April 2.  

The Wildcats continued their historic run with a 69-59 win over UConn to advance to the program's first ever championship game! Arizona led practically the whole game, defeating the Huskies 69-59 on the back of 26 points from McDonald. 

Arizona faced a familiar foe in Stanford in the championship game for an all-Pac-12 National Championship game. Despite what was one of the team's worst shooting performances all season, shooting just 6-22 from three and shooting 28.8% overall, the Wildcats still battled all game and stayed in it up until the end when they lost in a heartbreaker 54-53. The Wildcats had a chance to win it on the final possession, but the Stanford defense forced McDonald to shoot a tough shot that could not find the net. 


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (4/9)
1,308 6 0.5%
Total (8/4)
246,487 4,258 1.7%
Includes tests since August 4, 2020
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated April 10, 2021