Yesterday’s loss in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament brought a disappointing end to the debut season of University of Arizona head women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes.
Sixth-seeded Oregon trailed No. 11 seed Arizona for most of the game, but staged a fourth-quarter rally that led the Ducks to the 70-63 win. It was a revenge game for Oregon, which lost to the Wildcats in last year’s opening round.
Barnes, a former star player at Arizona, also kicks off her coaching tenure in Tucson with a losing season (14-16) that just adds to four straight losing campaigns under her predecessor, Niya Butts, who was dismissed after posting just one winning record in eight seasons. Butts finished 13-19 last year, with three conference wins.
The Wildcats wrapped up the 2016-17 season with a 5-13 record in the Pac-12, leaving them in a four-way tie for last place in the conference. While not an impressive finish, the five conference wins are actually more than the last two years combined under Butts. That’s how badly things had deteriorated.
One other bright spot in an otherwise difficult season was an unexpected 62-58 victory over rival Arizona State in front of a home crowd at McKale Center. Two days later, the Sun Devils evened the score by winning the re-match in Tempe.
But that win over ASU, a regular contender in the national rankings, provided Wildcat fans some hope that the program is beginning the slow turn to respectability again. That win over ASU was just the third time in 16 games that Arizona has come out on top in the rivalry.
The players appear to be buying into the message of hope. After the Oregon game, senior LaBrittney Jones offered her reflections on her final collegiate season. “I felt like this is one of the best seasons I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said the 6’1″ forward from Texas. “It’s probably not saying a lot because we haven’t had a good season, but, hey, it’s one of the better seasons.”
She did what she could during her four years in Tucson to help re-build a program that has been struggling to return to the glory days under Joan Bonvicini, who ran the program for 17 years and turned it into a national contender. Barnes leaves Tucson with her own place in the program history books: 11th in made field goals (457), 12th in scoring (1,240 career points), and eighth in career rebounds (682).
Against Oregon yesterday, Jones scored in double figures for the 25th time this season, putting up 23 points and grabbing six rebounds. Her season averages included 15.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks – team highs in each category.
While the Arizona offense was not that effective, scoring 39.7 percent from the field, an active defense carried much of the load. The Cats forced 18 turnovers and turned those into 15 points.
Arizona led 29-27 going into halftime and led 44-41 going into the fourth quarter. But a 15-6 run by the Ducks to start the final frame gave them a lead they were able to hold the rest of the way.
Two other players finished in double figures. Senior guard Malena Washington and freshman guard Lucia Alonso chipped in 14 points apiece.
“I thought we had opportunities to win tonight,” Barnes said after the game. “but we just missed a couple of shots down the stretch and didn’t get shots we needed. “I thought the seniors really led the team this year.”
Arizona is losing five seniors, which will give Barnes a chance to fill those spots with more of her own recruits as she builds toward a second year that will need to see even more improvement.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)