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Facing the greats: Arizona women’s basketball searching for unlikely win in trip to Bay Area

Wildcats face one of the league’s best teams in Stanford and one of its best players in Cal’s Kristine Anigwe

Aari McDonald looks to score against Utah in a game played at McKale Center on Feb. 15, 2019
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Cal’s Kristine Anigwe left Phoenix in 2015 as the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year and the top-ranked post player in the country.

Arizona’s Aari McDonald was MaxPreps’ Player of the Year for California’s Division IV the following year. The dominant post and the speedy guard have something besides awards that bind them, though: respect and admiration.

McDonald told the Inside Pac-12 Women’s Basketball podcast on Wednesday that her favorite player to watch in the conference is Anigwe. Anigwe returned the love on Twitter.

It doesn’t end there, though. Both players have also been on record-setting tears this season. McDonald has already become the fastest Arizona women’s player to score 600 points in a season. Heading into the Bay Area games, she needs just 33 points to break the single-season scoring record held by her coach, Adia Barnes.

“Honestly, I haven’t been thinking about it,” McDonald said. “Just playing one game at a time. Just trying to win and secure a spot in the postseason. If I break it, I break it. If I don’t, I don’t.”

Earlier this season, Anigwe became one of the few players to score 2,000 points and pull down 1,000 boards in a career. Her 2,431 points have already broken Cal’s all-time scoring record, previously held by Colleen Galloway.

And, like McDonald, Anigwe takes on a lot of the responsibility for her team’s success. Both have usage rates in the top-15 in the nation. McDonald’s 37.7 percent is third, while Anigwe sits at 14th with her 34.5 percent. McDonald is third in the nation with 24.8 points per game, while the Cal senior is seventh with 23.3 ppg. Anigwe leads the country in rebounding, while McDonald is often first or second on her team in the stat despite being a guard.

The two will lead their teams as they match up on Sunday at 3 p.m. MST. The first time they met, the Wildcats got the best of the then-No. 24 Golden Bears in a five-point victory. McDonald scored 36 in that game. Anigwe never gave up, tying it up at 53 with just over a minute to go before succumbing to the Wildcats—and McDonald’s free throws.

Cal is now 15-11 overall, and 5-9 in the conference. That puts them two spots behind Arizona in the standings.

But there are plenty of reasons to fear the Golden Bears. First, it’s tough to play at Haas Pavilion. Even mighty Stanford found that out just two weeks ago when they lost by one on Cal’s home court.

The Golden Bears are also looking to prove something. Their last four games have included a home-and-home with Stanford and hosting the Oregon schools. They lost three out of those four. They are looking for something good to happen.

Senior Day. Saying goodbye to seniors is always difficult. Saying goodbye to a senior like Anigwe is exponentially so. Sunday will be her last hurrah at Haas Pavilion, as the Golden Bears end the season on the road in Washington.

Then, there’s the revenge factor. Cal came in as a ranked team back in January, and left with a tough loss.

“That’s going to be a really tough game, because we beat them here at home,” Barnes said. “So, they’re going to be trying to kill us. That’s kind of how we were with Utah.”

Before the ‘Cats can think about Cal, though, they have an even bigger worry: Stanford. The Cardinal came into McKale Center and beat Arizona by 30 just over a month ago.

The Cardinal did it primarily by putting size on McDonald and driving her into the middle to face Alanna Smith. Smith had seven blocks in that game.

Arizona was never able to figure out the answer to the Cardinal’s puzzle, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them use similar tactics on Friday night. It will be up to the ‘Cats to prove that other players can score; that shutting down McDonald’s scoring doesn’t mean shutting down their team.

There are some reasons for optimism considering that Arizona has gotten more players involved offensively of late. They have faced nine opponents since they last played Stanford. In six of those games, the ‘Cats have had at least three players score in double digits.

The question is whether they can reproduce that in Maples Pavilion. When Oregon beat the Cardinal on Feb. 10, it ended Stanford’s 22-game home winning streak. After that game, the Cardinal traveled to LA for their next two contests. So, this will be their first home game since losing by 40 to the Ducks.

“Stanford at Stanford does not lose,” Barnes said. “That Oregon loss was very rare.”

The Cardinal will have plenty of motivation to start a new streak against the Wildcats. As if they needed it.

Arizona has an uphill battle in both games, but Barnes doesn’t see it as a lost cause.

“If you look from the outside in, we should lose all four games,” Barnes said. “That’s kind of realistic. But looking at the other side, Stanford just lost a couple of weeks ago really badly at home and I think they’re not playing at the level that they were a month ago, because they’ve had some injuries, unfortunately. And, then, if you look at Cal, Cal’s also had some tough losses. So, I think that’s a good time to try to beat a team on the road.”

The Wildcats will tip off against the Cardinal at 8 p.m. MST on Friday evening. The game can be viewed via Stanford’s live stream.

On Sunday at 3 p.m. MST, the Arizona-Cal game will be carried on California’s live stream.