Recap: What might have been for AZ Pac-12 hoops teams


It was a good year for the basketball teams representing Arizona in the Pac-12 Conference. All four of the men’s and women’s teams posted 20-win seasons.

All four earned national rankings. All four had a chance to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.

But we’ll never know how successful they might have been in the postseason since the NCAA cancelled the 2020 Tournament over concerns for the continuing spread of the COVID-19 virus (Coronavirus). March Madness went quietly into the night.

So, here’s some food for thought while wondering what might have been…

The University of Arizona women’s team won seven of its final 10 regular-season games and then made it to the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament before falling to No. 3 Oregon in the final game before that event was also cancelled, just short of the title game.

Adia Barnes, who just finished her fourth season as UofA head coach, was having her most successful season in Tucson since taking over the stalled program. When this year’s squad swept the California schools on the last weekend in January, the Cats moved up to become the No. 12 team in the country.

That was the program’s highest ranking in more than 20 years. The last time an Arizona women’s team was ranked that high was in 1998 — when Barnes (pictured above) was playing for the Wildcats and finished as the leading scorer in program history. They finished this season at No. 16.

The UofA men also won their opening round in the Pac-12 Tournament, beating Washington, 77-70, before their season abruptly came to a close. They were inconsistent throughout the season, starting out by winning the first nine games, and finishing up by losing four of their final five regular-season games.

But they stockpiled 21 wins, were nationally-ranked for much of the second half of the season, and climbed to as high as No. 12 in early December.

Across the state, the Arizona State women, unranked at the time, earned a reputation as giant-killers, knocking off No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Oregon State — in the same mid-January weekend.

That vaulted them into the top-25 rankings, entering at No. 18. And a string of five straight wins moved the Devils up to No. 16, their highest ranking of the season.

But they lost twice to rival Arizona, the first time in 20 years that the Wildcats have been able to sweep ASU (20-11), and ended the season by losing two of their last three games, to go into the conference tourney on a down note. They lost to California, 67-71, in the first round.

On the men’s side, fifth-year head coach Bobby Hurley was looking forward to a chance to make it three NCAA appearances in a row.

But no one could be sure which ASU team would show up, either for the Pac-12 tourney or the Big Dance. The Devils rolled through February, winning seven games in a row, and then finished out the schedule by winning eight of of eleven. However, they were unable to finish strong, losing three of the last four.

They finished with an identical record to the women, 20-11, but it marked the third 20-win season in a row for Hurley. It’s the first time that’s happened since Herb Sendek led his teams to a trifecta from 2008-2010.

Hurley will likely have another shot at making the field of 64 for next year’s NCAA party. He loses just two scholarship players.

All of the coaches will have some down time now to recover from the blindside hit their programs just took. The NCAA has put a moratorium on recruiting, putting into effect a dead period that will run until April 15, eliminating on-campus recruiting visits and keeping the coaches off the recruiting trail.

Unfortunately, that also provides time to ponder just how far their teams might have gone if there had been a Big Dance to attend.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)