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Arizona women’s basketball notebook: On Idaho, fan support, the WNIT, Candrea’s admiration, and more

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Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Adia Barnes is leading a revolution. Arizona’s women’s basketball team before Barnes took over as head coach was a doormat for other Pac-12 and Pac-10 programs from most of the past two decades.

Things have changed over the last year, as Barnes and her group of Wildcats have transformed the program into one that is just a couple games away from a WNIT title.

Coming off this a 6-24 season last year, the Wildcats are making a name for themselves in a postseason tournament. An incredible step in the right direction, and it looks like it’s the first of many steps.

Adia Barnes spoke to the media before their matchup with Idaho Thursday night in McKale Center. Here are a couple tidbits from her presser:

Preparing for Idaho

The difficulties of postseason play is often not so much the disparity in talent, but the lack of time to prepare for a team that, more often than not, is one that you haven’t faced before. Idaho is that case for Arizona, and the preparation for them is unique for Barnes.

“Immediately,” said Barnes after I asked her when she and her staff dive into film study of their next opponent. “We are anticipating beforehand.. as a staff, scouts are split to prepare for each scenario and getting ready for that stuff, downloading (the film) onto our computers so that we can prepare for the next round.

“There’s all those things going on behind the scenes. But as a team, we aren’t talking about any of that. We are talking about this, it’s all Idaho. Because we don’t look past, and I don’t think you can do that in the postseason.”

“Because there is such a quick turnaround, you have to do what you do. You have to stick to your principles, and your philosophy, because it can change too much.”

“The team that we are playing, Idaho, they run a lot of stuff. And so I couldn’t possibly give my players 15 things to remember. We are just a young team and we can’t do that. Stanford could probably do that, But I think when you’re young, you just have to go with tendencies, stuff that they do out of stuff, reads, and we are a solid defensive team so just working on ‘this is what we really have to be prepared for’, and ‘this is what this could look like’ and the main things.”

Idaho is 22-11 this season and went 16-4 in the Big Sky. The Vandals routed Loyola Marymount and Denver in the first two rounds of the WNIT.

Excitement around Tucson

Students aside, the city of Tucson has jumped on the women’s bandwagon, and Barnes has noticed. But she’s not complaining.

“The community has been great,” said Barnes. “I’ve been seeing signs all over that say congratulations and stuff so the community has really embraced us. We just want to put a good product on the floor tomorrow against a good team”

Tucson, as we all know, is a basketball town. And in a season where the men’s team failed to make the NCAA Tournament, Barnes and her team picked the perfect time to conduct their program turnaround. Barnes’s team is, and has been the most fun and exciting team in Tucson this year by a country mile.

“I’m excited,” said Barnes. “I want to repeat what we did a long time ago here, so we’re going for the gold.”

NCAA Tournament vs. WNIT

Barnes was asked whether she would take a first-round exit at the NCAA Tournament or a deep run in the WNIT.

“It’s better to have a long run in the WNIT because for us it’s game experience,” she answered. “It’s one-and-done experience and that’s really different, it feel different, it’s a lot more pressure. To be able to possibly play, now our third, fourth, fifth, sixth game. I think it’s a lot better. We get another month of basketball, or potentially a month of basketball, so I think this is better. And I also think this is better for where we are at.”

With the women’s game not having a culture of players leaving early to enter the draft, the Wildcats are slated to return a huge part of this year’s team. That makes this extra basketball they are playing crucial to Arizona’s development as it aspires to be an upper-tier Pac-12 women’s program.

Arizona family

Barnes said seeing current Arizona coaches like Sean Miller and Mike Candrea buy tickets, alongside former Wildcats like Solomon Hill has been cool to see.

“It is awesome,” said Barnes. “I think it’s really meaningful for me. When I see that it makes me really happy. Just knowing that, like, Solomon Hill who hasn’t been here, doesn’t know our team, doesn’t know me personally, and is just supporting. It means a lot.

“Now I’m going to be supporting him. If he ever has a challenge for a charity or something then I’m all in,” Barnes said. “I think it’s about giving back and that’s what we do at Arizona. You are apart of a family, an extended family, and that’s kind of always how it’s been here. And that’s how i’m building the women’s program to be, just like how Sean (Miller) and Lute (Olson) have done with the men’s program.”

Barnes being the next Miller or Olson? Some old man told me not to count your chickens before they hatch, but if Barnes can continue to build the momentum behind the program, it’s not completely out of the question.

Candrea praises Barnes

Candrea has been UA’s softball coach since the 1980s, so he has seen all the highs and lows the women’s basketball program has endured over the last few decades.

There have been more lows than highs, so he is impressed how Barnes has grown the program since taking over in 2016-17.

“What she’s done with this team to turn it around number one takes some good players, which she’s been able to bring in, but I think she’s really raised the bar for women’s basketball at Arizona,” he said. “I’m just really excited about the future for her because it’s really bright.”