The Arizona women’s basketball team already had their plane tickets to Laramie, Wyoming booked Thursday when they received some good news in the final minute of their win vs. Idaho.
Instead of playing Wyoming at Wyoming in the Elite Eight of the WNIT, Arizona received the right to host (Sunday, 2 p.m. MST).
“I like that much better for a couple reasons,” said UA coach Adia Barnes. “It’s a hard trip. I don’t talk to the team about what’s ahead, but it was going to be leave (Friday), play on Saturday. That’s a quick turnaround and you have to go to Denver and bus. And that’s a really hard place to play.”
The Wildcats don’t have to worry about that because the UA administration ponied up. The WNIT determines the host based on factors such as fan base, facility availability, tournament seed, and travel constraints. But the No. 1 determinant, according to a person within the program, is the host bid.
“Our administration really supports this program and every way and (athletic director) Dave (Heeke) made an offer they couldn’t refuse,” Barnes said. “I like that. An offer you can’t say no to.”
Barnes declined to give specifics about that offer because, well, she doesn’t know what it is.
“If it’s something you can’t refuse, it’s a lot of money,” she said. “But that shows that they’re supporting and they believe in us in what we’re doing and they’re putting money into it. So they’re investing in us. And I think that’s a big thing. And now the city is, so it’s just great momentum, and I want us to feed off of that.”
Barnes hoped to get 5,000 fans at Thursday’s WNIT game against Idaho, and she got 6,300. So now she is raising the bar to 7,000 for Sunday’s Elite Eight game against Wyoming, even auctioning off her husband, assistant coach Salvo Coppa, to reach that goal.
Date night with Salvo if you buy 1000 tickets in the next 10 minutes and I will be the chapperone!— ADIA BARNES ⬇️ (@AdiaBarnes) March 30, 2019
“I’m gonna get greedy,” she quipped Thursday. “I think we can do it.”
Why not? The Wildcats have drawn more and more fans to each WNIT game, even filling in the student section Thursday.
Barnes sees the fan support as validation for her decision to return to her alma mater, though she admits she didn’t think the program would be garnering this much attention in just her third season at the helm.
Remember, it was just last season when the Wildcats went 6-24.
“I think that’s one of the special things about Tucson, everything is about U of A,” Barnes said. “For a woman’s basketball program, that’s important because it’s all about us. It’s not about the WNBA, it’s not about the NBA, it’s not about MLB, it’s about this school and what’s going on. And right now we’re the thing that’s going up. So I love that. I think that’s exciting and the rewarding part about that is we had 6,300 people, So that’s telling me people want to come out and support and they’re happy and they’re buying in.”
It’s basketball worth investing in. The Wildcats have several milestones this season, the most notable of which is reaching the postseason for the first time since 2011.
On top of that, this is the first time they have won more than two postseason games in a season since 1996.
Barnes acknowledges the team’s run might have ended sooner if not for the raucous fan support.
“The crowd, it ignited us,” Barnes said Thursday after the win vs. Idaho. “When we were flat and the basketball was getting a little bit ugly and we were letting them hit shots in the third quarter, the crowd got crazy, started chanting ‘Arizona’ and it makes us make plays. You feed off of it.”