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All focus on Idaho as Arizona women’s basketball goes into WNIT’s Round of 16

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Arizona women’s basketball hasn’t played a third game in the postseason since Adia Barnes was a senior. Back in 1998, the team advanced to the third round of the NCAA before bowing out to Connecticut. The stakes may not be the same against Idaho in the WNIT’s third round, but the opportunity may be even more important for the Wildcats.

“It’s better to have a long run in the WNIT (than go out early in the NCAA Tournament), because for us it’s game experience,” Barnes said. “It’s one-and-done experience, and that’s really different. It feels different. There’s a lot more pressure. To be able to play..,now, it’s our third, fourth, fifth, sixth game, I think it’s a lot better. And we get another month of basketball, or potentially a month of basketball. So, I think this is better. And I think this is perfect for where we’re at.”

The WNIT is a means to an end for Barnes.

“I want to repeat what we did a long time ago here,” she said.

But she understands that it will take time to do that.

In the interim, all focus is on Idaho. When asked about what could potentially be down the road in the tournament, Barnes said that they already have scouts looking at scenarios for next round, but that will be all for naught if they lose to the Vandals.

At 22-11 and 16-4 in conference, Idaho will be the second straight Big Sky team the Wildcats face. The Vandals have already dispensed with Loyola Marymount and Denver. The first round game against LMU was a 15-point rout. Considering that the same Loyola Marymount team beat Arizona in McKale back in November, Idaho is certainly a team the Wildcats can’t overlook.

“As a team, we’re not talking about (potential future rounds),” Barnes said. “We’re talking about Idaho, because we don’t look past.”

Most important for the Wildcats will be perimeter defense, she said. Over the past few days, they have been focusing on defending the “tremendous shooters” on the Idaho roster by having their practice players take quick 3-point shots.

As a team, the Vandals shoot 37.6 percent from distance for the season. Their three top perimeter shooters have 377, 324 and 154 attempts. Those three have connected on 39.3, 35.2 and 41.6 percent of those shots, respectively.

That said, the young team has confidence heading into the Thursday evening matchup.

“I really feel that they believe we can win it all,” Barnes said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt in their mind.”