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‘She’s someone I trust’: Lucía Alonso is Arizona’s steady senior

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 29 Women’s UC Riverside at Arizona

Lucía Alonso will always have a special place in Adia Barnes’ heart. She was Barnes’ first recruit at Arizona and the two have been together through every step of the rebuilding process.

That has meant some highs, like winning the WNIT and cracking the Top 25 for the first time since 2004, but also a lot of lows. Like going 20-40 in Alonso’s first two seasons, including that dreaded 6-24 season.

During those early struggles, Barnes pleaded with the Spaniard to not leave, to trust that better days were ahead.

Turns out she had nothing to worry about. Alonso, now a senior, never had any doubts about the program’s direction.

“Because I really like the coaches,” she said. “Salvo (Coppa) and Adia, they helped me a lot my freshman year and I wouldn’t have played for anybody else.”

The Wildcats leaned on Alonso in her first two seasons. A lot. She started in 57 of 60 games and played 1,088 minutes in her second season, the most ever by a UA sophomore at the time. Alonso ran the point and was the team’s best shooter. Oftentimes she was the only bright spot on the court.

But as the program has stockpiled talent and burst into the spotlight, Alonso’s role, ironically, has diminished.

She is currently seventh on the team in minutes and has come off the bench in all eight games she’s appeared in. That might sound like a difficult transition, going from featured player to reserve, but Alonso has taken it in stride.

“At the end of the day, I want to win,” she said. “I mean, I want to do what’s best for the team. If I have to play 40 minutes, I’ll do it. If I have to stay on the bench, I’ll do it.”

She means that. When Alonso is not playing, she contributes by running the scout team and using her international background to mentor UA’s foreign freshmen, especially fellow Spaniard Helena Pueyo, who has emerged as the team’s third leading scorer.

“We talk in Spanish all the time,” Alonso said. “I help her with everything.”

“Sometimes it’s annoying,” joked Latvian freshman Mara Mote. “I don’t understand what they’re saying.”

And, yes, Alonso can still deliver when her number is called. She remains one of Arizona’s sharpest shooters and steadiest ball handlers. Her defense, once seen as a weakness, has blossomed. She attributes that to long hours in the gym and a transformed body, the result of a healthy diet.

Alonso is a nutritional science major and a dedicated meal-prepper. When the Wildcats dine as a team, Alonso never indulges in dessert, much to her teammates’ chagrin.

“We went to dinner last night and we had bread, appetizers, a dessert, (she) literally did not eating anything but her meal,” laughed sophomore forward Cate Reese. “Not one piece of bread.”

Hey, whatever works.

“I feel like even last year she was a great defender, but she’s always on the ball, she’s smart, she’s one of our smartest players that we have,” Reese said. “She just knows what to do and where to be at all times. So I mean, I definitely think that really helps her and she’s really active off the ball on defense, she’s always in help side, or when she’s on the ball, she has a lot of ball pressure. It’s good to look at. You have a player on the team you can trust to be in help side if you need help.”

In other words, Alonso is a coach’s best friend.

“I know what Lucia can do, I know that at any given time I can call on Lucia,” Barnes said. “I know that she is so unselfish. She is such a great teammate. She doesn’t care if she plays five or 40 minutes, she wants to win.”

Last week against UTEP, when Arizona was depleted by injuries, Barnes needed Alonso to step into a bigger role. She answered the bell by playing a season-high 36 minutes, hitting a 3 and dishing out four assists in the 54-43 victory, the closest game the Wildcats have been entrenched in all season.

It showed Barnes has immense trust in Alonso, who is Arizona’s longest-tenured player. And why wouldn’t she? They have been together through thick and thin.

“I remember saying to her, ‘don’t leave, it’s gonna be OK, it’s gonna get better,’ because the culture wasn’t good when I first got here,” Barnes said. “She was a huge part of that building process. Without her, we wouldn’t have any of the success we had, so she’s someone I rely on, she’s someone I trust.

“And we need her to play at a high level, regardless of how many minutes, and sometimes it’s matchups and games. Sometimes it’s a really fast game, sometimes it’s a game where we need someone to slow us down.

“She’s able to play a lot of different roles for us, and I think she knows that when push comes to shove and we’re in UTEP with a rowdy crowd and four people down, I’m gonna call on her. We wouldn’t have won against Santa Clara without Lucia. And in the Pac-12, she is one of our two point guards that we’ll need.”