For the last two basketball seasons, Adia Barnes has been taking her lumps.
This year, her Wildcats are dishing them out instead.
Her first two seasons as the new University of Arizona women’s head basketball coach have been, shall we say, not up to fans’ expectations. Her debut season ended with a 14-16 overall record and five wins in the rugged Pac-12 Conference. Last year’s squad finished 6-24 and won just two conference contests, wrapping up Barnes’ second season by losing 10 of the last 11 games.
Now, the Cats are off to a 7-1 start, their only loss to Loyola Marymount — by two points. And the wins have been commanding.
Arizona is averaging 80 points a game, well ahead of last year’s 58 ppg. Last year, the Cats were outscored by their opponents by almost 13 points a game. This year, they are outscoring the competition by 29 points a game — a swing of 42 points.
Yes, it’s still the non-conference part of the schedule. But the way that Arizona is dominating in its wins and putting up numbers worthy of noting, it has to be instilling an air of confidence in the players — and hope in the fan base.
The 100 points they scored against Montana yesterday in a 100-51 rout marks the first time that an Arizona women’s team has hit the century mark since 2013 and has upped their current win streak to six games.
There’s reason to be optimistic and feel like this kind of play isn’t just a passing fantasy that will fade with the beginning of conference play: Barnes has talent this year.
In addition to returning three starters, she also picked up three transfers to provide additional experience and depth. And then went out and signed a top-5 recruiting class loaded with young talent and energy. The 2018 class had received a No. 4 ranking from ProspectsNation.com, the highest-rated class in program history.
One of those transfers, Aari McDonald, leads the nation in scoring with 26.6 points a game. The redshirt sophomore (above picture) who sat out last season after transferring in from University of Washington tied an Arizona single-season record with 39 points against Loyola Marymount.
The 5’7″ guard from Calif0rnia has been honored twice this season with Pac-12 Player of the Week honors.
And Cate Reese, a five-star recruit from Texas, became the first player to earn Pac-12 Freshman of the Week after posting her second double-double of the season (19 points, 16 rebounds) in a 73-32 blow-out of South Carolina State two weeks ago. The 6’3″ forward is the highest-rated prospect in UA women’s program history and is also the first McDonald’s All-American to sign with the Wildcats.
Barnes, who became the leading scorer in program history during her college career at Arizona, is showing she can recruit – not an easy task in Tucson. The Wildcats have posted just one winning season in the last 13 years. Trying selling that to a 5-star recruit.
Barnes has the added disadvantage of not being able to offset that by pointing to coaching successes before taking the Arizona job. This is her first gig as a head coach.
But a record-setting college career and 12 years playing in the WNBA has been the shining object she dangles in front of recruits. That, and her obvious passion for the game. Whatever she’s doing, it’s obviously working.
By beating Idaho State in the season opener, Barnes now has the distinction of being the first women’s basketball coach at Arizona to win openers in three straight years.
However, that’s not going to be enough to save her job if she isn’t able to put those last two seasons behind her and bring the Wildcat program back to some kind of relevancy.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)