It may seem like college sports are always going on, but July is the one month of the year when no Arizona Wildcats teams are in action. Yep, we’re as sad about that as you are.
Before you know it, the 2019-20 seasons will be under way for Arizona’s 19 men’s and women’s sports. But in the meantime, now is the perfect opportunity to assess how each of these programs are doing.
Over the next few weeks we’ll break down each team and evaluate how it is performing under its current coaching staff, looking at the state of the program before he/she arrived and comparing it to now (as well as looking into the near future).
Next up: Adia Barnes’ women’s basketball team.
How it looked before
Of all the major programs at Arizona, none had been down as much—and longer—as women’s basketball. Joan Bonvicini—who is being inducted into the Arizona Hall of Fame in September—led the Wildcats to seven NCAA tournament appearances between 1997-2005, reaching the Sweet 16 in 1998, but her final three seasons were the start of a downward trend that continued for another decade.
Bonvicini’s successor, Niya Butts, went 102-147 from 2009-16 with only one winning records and just 24 conference victories in eight seasons. Her dismissal opened the door for Arizona to bring home one of the program’s greatest players in Barnes, who from 1995-98 made three all-conference teams and finished as the Wildcats’ career scoring leader.
Barnes came back to Tucson from Seattle, where as an assistant with Washington she was part of a staff that reached the Final Four in 2015-16.
Where things stand now
Barnes’ first two years with Arizona were a struggle, as expected, with a combined 30-40 overall record and a 7-29 mark in Pac-12 play. But that all changes in 2018-19, when the Wildcats put together arguably the greatest season in program history.
Arizona won 24 games, including its final six en route to the WNIT title in front of a sold-out McKale Center crowd. That came after the Wildcats had their most Pac-12 wins (seven) since 2010-11.
With all five starters back, including explosive scorer Aari McDonald (who broke Barnes’ single-season scoring mark last year), Arizona is poised for an even bigger year in 2019-20. And to make sure Barnes was around for it, and beyond, the school signed her to a contract extension through the 2023-24 season.
Barnes is set to make $400,000 this season, nearly double her $235,000 salary from 2018-19.
One big question
Will the fan support continue? Each of the six WNIT games saw the McKale crowd grow exponentially, from 3,265 for the opener against Idaho State to 14,644 for the title-clinching win over Northwestern a little more than two weeks later. In a city that is so basketball-crazy, but usually just for the men’s team, it was a great sign of just how much Tucson had embraced women’s hoops.
But what will the crowd be like for the 2019-20 opener in November? Or for a weeknight game in January? Was this just a fluke, a product of some great grassroots promotion by Barnes and her players through social media?
It probably also helped that Sean Miller’s men’s team failed to make the NCAA tournament, eliminating any potential fan conflicts. But his team is expected to be a top-20 squad this season, so some fans’ allegiances (and discretionary income budget) could be tested.