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What Adia Barnes said at Arizona’s first day of practice

The Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball team held its first practice Friday as it prepares for the 2018-19 season.

The Wildcats are coming off a 6-24 campaign in which they went 2-16 in the Pac-12, but they are expected to improve drastically this season, thanks to improved size, depth and talent.

In case you missed it, Arizona...

  • added a top-10 recruiting class, highlighted by McDonald’s All-American Cate Reese
  • returned All-Pac-12 Freshman forward Sam Thomas and junior point guard Lucia Alonso, a two-year starter who shot 39 percent from 3 last season
  • has three transfers who are now eligible to play after sitting out last year — point guard Aarion McDonald (Washington), forward Dominique McBryde (Purdue) and guard Tee Tee Starks (Minnesota)

Third-year head coach Adia Barnes met with the media Friday to discuss the upcoming season and the ongoing rebuild, and here is what she had to say:

Arizona Women's Basketball started practice Friday, so here is Adia Barnes on the increased expectations, the talented newcomers, and lots more

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, September 28, 2018

On how the team is handling increased expectations...

“I think starting out really well, and I think what helps manage that is Aari, Tee Tee, and Dom have experience, so they’re used to it. They kind of had the leadership role, but they had to sit back and they were anxious to play. So I think that’s helped settle a lot of people. But we’re just taking one day at a time. I don’t think they feel like there’s tons of expectations because of last year.”

On how long she thought it would take to rebuild the program...

“I think I realistically thought five, six years. ... I knew I was going to be able to recruit good players, but just to (build the culture) because it takes usually three or four years to get all the former players to graduate and get your own players in.

“And so this year all but one player (Destiny Graham) is a player that I recruited. They’re all my players, but ones that I actually actively recruited. So that means you know their family, you know them a little bit better. So next year is Year 4 and it’s finally (my) team, so then it takes time. (UCLA coach) Cori Close told me that it takes six years. And if you don’t get the players you want, you don’t have the culture you want, so I think they’re really intermingled.”

On Arizona’s biggest strengths...

“One of the strengths is we play hard. I think that was one of the things that surprised me when I first came: there wasn’t an expectation to just go hard all the time. And I think that culturally we’re so far ahead of where we were just as far as encouraging each other, not quitting, just all those little things that take time. And I think that there’s just a different level of competitiveness.

“And one thing I love is Cate Reese, she’s such a fierce competitor. ... She’s like diving over people and I think that that’s culturally what you want, but then you want eight of those or 10 of those types of players. That’s why (developing) the culture takes time. But a couple of years ago we didn’t have anybody like that. We had players that played hard at times, but when things got tough, we were fragmented. I think this year learning how to be together and push each other, it’s good to compete. It’s good to kick each other’s butts a little bit, but then you’re teammates in the locker room.

On what fans can expect from forward Cate Reese, who is the first McDonald’s All-American in program history...

“I think that numbers are sometimes tough because yes, that’s the case for sure, but there’s still a lot of work. I mean we’re in the Pac-12, we’re in a really tough league. So it’s not like she’s going to come in and just average 20 and 20. There are things that she has to work on, things that she has to get better at and it’s hard. She’s going to be playing against Ruthy Hebard from Oregon, some of the top players in the country. So there is a learning curve and I think that the expectation is she’s going to always give 120 percent. She’s never going to take plays off and she wants to be good. So I think you’re going to see as the season goes on, she’s going to improve every day and every game.”

On the impact of Aarion McDonald, who was a member of the All-Pac-12 Freshman Team at Washington in 2016-17...

“Aari changes everything. Aari is athletic, so we’re changing a lot of our defense because of Aari. She’s someone that can disrupt the ball handler. She’s someone that can pick up full court. She’s someone that creates shots. So I think what you’ll see this year is you’ll see Lucia not have to work so hard for shots. I remember last year she had to go off five on-ball (screens) and re-screen. She’s going to get easier shots, and Sam Thomas will get easier shots. Aari just changes everything on the court offensively and defensively, so it’s awesome to have her. She’ll be one of the best point guards in the league.”

On what to expect from Dominique McBryde, who was honorable mention All-Big Ten during her sophomore season in 2016-17...

“She’ll be one of our best post players for sure. She’s extremely smart. She’s savvy. My analogy is she’s got like an old man’s game. You know, the old man who looks like he’s okay, then he comes in and just busts you out for 20 and 20. It’ll be like a slow move, but then she’ll just score on you. But she’s talented. She can shoot the 3, she can put the ball on the floor, she’s got good moves. She’s probably one of our best back-to-the-basket posts, because a lot of our posts, they all want to go to facing up. But she can do both. I think she’s going to be an impact player for sure in this league and for us for sure. And she brings leadership because she’s won in a program.”

On how the improved depth will help...

“It was hard only playing six players, seven. It changes because every day in practice, we’re more competitive. It also changes because now people have someone really good behind them, so you work a little harder and you try hard and you play better because you have someone else who can take your spot. I think the other thing is it enables us to play more aggressively on defense because we’re not trying to conserve players.

“For us, we go from not having a post to having like five posts, so now we can guard people inside. We had a really tough time rebounding and playing post defense. I mean, it’s hard. Sam Thomas at 140 pounds was guarding (Kristine) Anigwe. And what do you do? She tried her best but it’s tough. So I think it just gives us different looks, it gives us the ability just to do different things and to play a little faster.”

On how the depth will help Lucia Alonso, who averaged 36.3 minutes per game last season...

“Well, I think you’ll see that twofold. The first thing is you’ll see her play better because she’s not having exert so much energy. Because if you play 40 minutes, you’re going to take time off. That’s just human nature and physically you can’t play hard for 40 minutes every possession.

“You’ll see her score a little bit better because she’ll get easier shots. And also, I think one of the biggest differences is last year she had to play the point that whole time because we didn’t really have another point that can control the tempo of the game. Aari can alleviate some of that pressure. So when (Lucia’s) getting pressured a lot, Aari can then go to the 1. So I think they play really well together and I think they’re gonna really help each other, so I think you’ll see Lucia improve a lot.

“And one of the things too about Lucia is she’s also got a little chip this year that I love. She didn’t make the (Spanish) national team. She wanted to, and a lot of people thought she should have, and she didn’t hang our head, but now she’s hungry and she’s got something to prove this year and I love that.”

On the improvement of sophomore Sam Thomas, who averaged 10.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.4 APG and 1.3 BPG last season...

“She’s improved a lot. I think one of the big transitions you’ll see, which will be an adjustment for her, is going from playing the 4 to going to play some at the 3. I think she’s just improved her 3-point shot, she’s improved her ball handling. She still has to improve it more, but she’s just gotten better. I think she’s going to be a player that little by little gets better every year. She’s a little bit more vocal than last year. Not a lot, but it’s a little bit, but she’s growing and she’s a great leader for us.”

On Thomas looking different physically...

“Her body got stronger because I think last year she was just super lean. I think this year she’s just got a little more girth to her and I think she realized last year they all hit a wall as a freshman during the year and I think it’s just really taxing so if you’re a little stronger it helps them. You’ll see that in Bryce (Nixon). She came in really lean, she’ll gain a little bit of muscle, not bulk, but just become a little bit stronger.”

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