When a new coach takes over a college basketball program, it’s inevitable that his/her early progress is measured by success against its in-state rival.
By that measuring stick, the University of Arizona women’s basketball program is stuck in neutral. And the team’s new head coach, Adia Barnes, appears to have miles to go to get caught up with the Pac-12 power in Tempe.
The Arizona State Sun Devils swept the Wildcats over the weekend, outscoring the Cats by 25 points in Friday’s series opener and then coming back Sunday and posting a 24-point rout.
While this scenario has played out all too often for Arizona fans — ASU has swept the season series three out of the last four times and has now won 26 of the last 30 match-ups with UofA — it was hoped a change in head coaches would begin to turn the tide. Barnes, a former University of Arizona standout during her college career, was hired to take over the program in April of 2016.
Twice a season she is faced with confronting the ASU program, where Charli Turner Thorne has spent 21 years building the Sun Devil program into a national presence, taking her teams to the NCAA Tournament 17 of the last 18 years, making a pair of Sweet Sixteen appearances and reaching the Elite Eight twice.
Actually, on paper it even looks like this season has become a step back for the Arizona rebuilding program. Last year, the Wildcats actually won the first of the two back-to-back games with ASU late in the season, beating the Sun Devils in Tucson by four points. And the second game, played at Wells Fargo Arena, ended in a 54-67 loss – at least less humbling than the 25-point spread this year.
Overall, too, Arizona appears to be slipping backward. With just two games left in the regular season, conference contests against the Oregon schools, this year’s edition won’t be able to match up to last year’s results in Barnes’ inaugural season. The Cats finished 14-16 last year and won five conference games. This team is 6-21 right now, with just two conference wins (2-14).
Last year’s season wrapped up with a first-round loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament. If the weekend’s results are any indication, the Wildcats again aren’t ready for tournament play.
ASU (19-9, 10-6) controlled just about every element of both games. In addition to the lopsided scoring stats, the Sun Devils beat the Wildcats on the boards, 28-24 in the opener and 40-22 on Sunday. The Devils also owned the paint, outscoring the Cats under the basket 40-22 and 22-16.
And the ASU defense was beyond disruptive, forcing 23 turnovers in the opener and 13 on Sunday. Those turnovers both nights were converted into a combined 51 points.
The opener was played in Tempe and for awhile it looked like the Wildcats were ready to compete. There were six lead changes and three ties in the first half before ASU blew the doors off in the third quarter, outscoring the visitors 25-5 in that frame to put the game out of reach, leading to the 75-50 rout.
In the Sunday finale, played in Tucson, it was ASU all the way. The Devils took a 35-24 lead into the half and just kept extending it the next two quarters to post the 69-45 victory.
ASU’s depth, something Arizona sorely misses, was on full display. In the opener, the guards, sophomore Robbi Ryan (24 points) and redshirt junior Courtney Ekmark (17 points) led the way offensively. The next game, the bigs took over as junior forward Kianna Ibis topped all scorers in the game with 14 points and sophomore forward Jamie Ruden added 12 points to provide the one-two punch.
The season sweep means the full Territorial Cup point will go to ASU.
Arizona, which has won just two of its last 16 games, will host Oregon State on Friday and conference leader Oregon on Sunday. ASU will welcome the same schools over in Tempe, flipping the dates.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)