A huge recruiting haul earlier this week speaks volumes about where the University of Arizona women’s basketball program is headed.
After stumbling through the second year of Adia Barnes‘ tenure as head coach, when the Wildcats won just six games, the program has been on a fast track to new-found respectability. After that 6-24 record in the 2017-18 season, Barnes put together consecutive 20-win marks, with last season’s 24-7 record the school’s best in more than a decade.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that Barnes, preparing for her fifth season in charge, is now working with her own recruits, rather than those she inherited from her predecessor.
And the two commitments she just picked up on back-to-back days this week is a good indication that the Arizona program is only going to get better.
On Sunday, Barnes got the good news that Aaronette Vonleh was joining the class of 2021 commitments. The 6’3″ post player from Oregon is a five-star prospect ranked No. 38 overall in the nation by ESPN.
On Monday, she picked up a 5’10” point guard from Estonia, Anna Gret Asi, who averaged 14.3 points and three assists last summer while playing in the FIBA U18 Women’s European Championship.
Anna Gret Asi joins a program that has a definite international flavor. Barnes has assembled a roster than includes players from Canada, Australia, Turkey, Spain, and Latvia. And now they can add the Republic of Estonia in northern Europe to the list.
Arizona’s first to commit to the class of 2021 came from just across the state. Madison Conner, another tall guard (5’11”), will finish her prep career this year at AZ Compass Prep in Chandler, but played her junior year at Perry High School in Gilbert where she averaged 20 points, seven points, and 3..2 assists. She’s ranked as the No. 13 point guard in her class.
Barnes’ persistence paid off with Conner. She offered the youngster while still a freshman and finally got her commitment in April.
Conner and Gret Asi will help a huge void that will be left after this season when Aari McDonald graduates.
McDonald started all 29 games last season, scoring 21 points a game while also leading the team in rebounding with 162 total — not bad for a 5’6″ guard. She led the Cats to a sweep of rival Arizona State, the first time that’s happened in 20 years, and was key to the Wildcats’ stunning upset of No. 4 Stanford, the first time in school history an Arizona women’s team beat a top-five team.
The next step in Arizona’s progression to national prominence will be overcoming the challenge presented by their conference foes. Last season’s 12-6 conference record is the first time under Barnes that the Cats have enjoyed a winning Pac-12 record.
It’s a problem that her predecessor, Niya Butts, was unable to solve during her seven years at the helm. The only time Butts posted a winning conference record was 2010, which was also the only 20-win season she achieved; her Pac-12 record was 10-8.
Winning in conference…that’s the high bar that Barnes has to get over.