Head coach Adia Barnes and the Arizona women’s basketball team are tired of the East Coast bias.
This year’s NCAA women’s national championship features two teams from the Pac-12 conference; the No. 3 seeded Arizona Wildcats and the No. 1 seeded Stanford Cardinal. Surely the attention would have shifted towards the Pac-12 by now but Barnes said the perception of the conference is still not where it deserves to be.
“I think that you need to respect the Pac-12 a lot more,” Barnes said. “It's very evident that a lot of writers don't even watch the Pac-12 because half of them, the writing isn't accurate or they're not familiar with people. So start watching the West Coast, start paying attention to the Pac-12. It is the best conference in the country and I think it needs to be respected more.”
“I'm hoping that with both of us in the championship game, that the Pac-12 will get more respect and the East Coast bias will stop,” Barnes said.
The lack of acknowledgment goes deeper than just the conference as a whole. The NCAA released a promotional video for the women’s Final Four ahead of last Friday’s games. The video featured South Carolina, UConn and Stanford. The Arizona Wildcats, who defeated No. 1 seeded UConn to advance the national championship for the first time in school history, were nowhere to be found in the video.
“I rewatched it a couple of times," senior point guard Aari McDonald told ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel. "It was frustrating. I definitely took it as a sign of disrespect.”
Barnes mirrored her star point guard’s feelings towards their team going completely unrecognized and said that a mistake like that is simply inexcusable.
“Those are things that get missed, sometimes, and shouldn't be,” Barnes told ESPN. “There are four teams that have worked really hard to get here. Stuff like that shouldn't happen.”
And it doesn’t stop there. The inequality and little recognition of women’s basketball were further displayed when Oregon Ducks forward Sedona Prince posted a video to social media during the tournament that showed a single stack of yoga mats and a few dumbbells given by the NCAA as the weight room for the women’s teams competing in San Antonio, Texas. The video then shows an entire ballroom with significantly more weight racks dedicated to the men’s basketball teams for their weight room.
Barnes was understandably upset about the inequality between the two sports but is now glad that the attention is shifting away from the disparities and towards the quality of play that has been center stage during this year’s postseason tournament.
“A very clear disparity, clear inequality and very obvious that things have to change,” Barnes said. “But I did not want that to be the focus of the tournament because there is good basketball. So the focus of the tournament to me, I'm glad it shifted to quality games, to incredible teams … There's good games, there's good products, there's exciting basketball. People watch and I think that that helps grow our game.”
“We have some good basketball,” Barnes said. “The Stanford, South Carolina game came down to one shot. I mean, that's amazing basketball to watch and it’s amazing, talented women with incredible stories. If you look on every team, even in the Final Four, every player on those teams have great stories that are bigger than basketball.”
One of those incredible stories lies within her own team. Senior forward Sam Thomas received the Elite 90 award this past week, an honor that is given to a student-athlete with the highest cumulative GPA participating in each of the 90 championships across all sports in the NCAA.
“Those are the things that need to be celebrated. Those are the stories that I want to be told," Barnes said. "Let's talk about the great things. Let's talk about these young women off the court. Let's talk about their stories, what they do and what makes them so incredible. I'm happy it's shifted and I'm very happy that this is good basketball. No one wants to see a blowout in the Final Four or a championship game so I’m very happy that is happening.”
Barnes and the Arizona Wildcats will get one last shot at reversing the bias when they tip off against No. 1 seeded Stanford in the 2021 national championship game on Sunday, April 4, at 3 p.m. MST.
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