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Arizona women’s basketball finally at full strength heading into the Battle4Atlantis

From left to right, Jada Williams (2), Maya Nnaji (23), and Courtney Blakely on the Arizona bench on Nov. 12, 2023
From left to right, Jada Williams (2), Maya Nnaji (23), and Courtney Blakely on the Arizona bench on Nov. 12, 2023
Photo by Catherine Regan / Arizona Athletics

Adia Barnes thought she would have 12 players this year, which is right about what she wants. An injury to Montaya Dew was followed by the departure of transfer Fanta Gassama. Then came news that transfer guard Courtney Blakely had not been cleared by the NCAA. Suddenly, the team was playing with as few as five players. That’s in the past.

“It’s just good to have more depth,” Barnes said. “Just think about we haven’t been together for one game yet this whole season. Practice is different. And Courtney—it’s hard sitting on the sideline and just waiting, anticipating when she didn’t know if it was gonna take one week or one year. So she was just relieved. I think it was getting a little down for a while because she didn’t anticipate even missing any games. But for us from a player’s perspective and coaching perspective, just to have another guard to rotate when we don’t have a lot of players is really good.”

Publicly, Barnes has said that the issue with Blakely affected both the coach and the player. In other words, it was not an academic issue. They finally got the good news while on their way to the Bahamas for the Battle4Atlantis tournament.

“So everybody was sleeping on the plane,” Barnes said. “Everybody had blankets over their heads. And then I saw texts. It must have came through. Our phones had to be in airplane mode. But the text came through that she was finally cleared. Kristen [Arquilla] from Compliance has done an amazing job and she really, really worked hard to help get this done. She sent us the text that Courtney was cleared, so I actually woke her up...And then I told her she was clear she screamed and everybody woke up and started cheering. So, we’re really happy because she’s been waiting for a while.”

It gives the guards an extra body. They have been playing with just Helena Pueyo, Kailyn Gilbert, Jada Williams, and Skylar Jones. It also caused Esmery Martinez to slide to the three instead of playing the four.

“It means a lot,” Pueyo said. “She has been waiting a long time...I’m really excited to play with her. I think she’s an amazing player and she brings a lot of energy, especially on defense. Having one more guard is also really important for us right now.”

Barnes does not expect there to be a big period of adjustment for Blakely. While she hasn’t been in games, she has been allowed to practice and watch film while her case was winding through the NCAA.

“She’s been doing all of our preparation, and all of our breakdowns, and knows all of our offense because she has been in practice every single day,” Barnes said. “So she’s not going to miss a beat. For her, it’s just being able to actually apply those things from practice in a game and actually play in games that count. So she’s excited for that. But there’s nothing. She’s not going to miss. She’ll play tomorrow. She’ll be in the rotation because she’s ready and she’s been anticipating this.”

Barnes has touted the guard’s speed and defensive mindset since first signing her. The need for that extra defender was especially evident during the recent stretch of three games in five days. It will be even more important during the three games in three days stretch at the tournament this weekend.

“From a team’s perspective, she really brings a lot for what we do,” Barnes said. “We want to play defense. We want to dictate things. We want to be aggressive. And she is the one that has the capability of doing that. She’s extremely fast, probably one of the fastest players I’ve coached. And just like all over the place, and that’s what we like defensively, so she’s definitely going to help improve our defense. And our defense is improving anyways but to have a dynamic guard like her really changes...the way things look.”

The full-strength Wildcats will start the tournament against Memphis. According to Barnes’ description, they will face a team much like themselves.

“We expect a team that plays tenacious defense,” Barnes said. “Really good guard play—and post play, but some guards that can really score. Good in transition. They force a lot of turnovers. So we’re going to receive a lot of pressure. But the good thing is we play like that every day in practice. We play against each other with a lot of pressure. They're a really good team that’s experienced, and we know it’s going to be a hard first game but we’re ready.”

Memphis Tigers (1-2, 0-0 AAC) vs Arizona Wildcats (4-0, 0-0 Pac-12)

When: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 12:30 p.m. MST

Where: Imperial Arena in Nassau, Bahamas

TV/Streaming: FloHoops ($)

Radio: Varsity Network

Stats: Arizona Live Stats