On Friday, No. 18 Arizona and No. 16 Arizona State will meet in Tucson, marking the first time in series history that both schools are ranked inside the AP Top 25.
The Wildcats (15-3, 4-3 Pac-12) already knocked off the Sun Devils (15-4, 5-2) in Tempe in late December, meaning Friday also represents a chance for Arizona to capture its first sweep of the Sun Devils since 2000.
No, really. There’s no pressure.
“I think there would be more pressure if we lost at ASU, then you kinda need to at least split,” said Arizona coach Adia Barnes. “But we won there, that was the hardest thing. So now playing at home, we should be better at home. ... So I think it’s an exciting opportunity.”
Barnes spoke to the media for 25 minutes on Wednesday. Here are some of the notable things she said.
On what differences she expects in the rematch: “I don’t expect anything to be different. I expect it to be super physical, I expect it to be a really good game. We’re both really good defensive teams. I expect it to be very emotional and it can go either way.”
On the number of tickets already sold: “We’re at 6,015, so we’re halfway to our goal. First we were going for 10,000. But then I was like, ‘Well, why don’t we just go for the record in the Pac-12, which is like 12,364, which is the Oregon game?’ But then the national record was (13,100), so I was like, ‘we should go for that’ and get greedy. So I don’t know what it’ll actually be, but we’re on track. (Against) Oregon, we had like 8,000 people, but we didn’t have 6,000 sold at this time, I don’t think. So I think it’s moving up slowly.”
On Arizona being able to draw such big crowds: “I don’t know many places in the country (you could do that). You could never do that in L.A. You couldn’t do that in San Diego....but that’s what makes it special. Kids want to play in an environment like that. I think it’s rare in women’s basketball.”
On what she learned from the win over Washington: “That we’re resilient. We don’t lay down and die. We were down 19 and we were getting our butts kicked the first quarter, but we corrected it. And I think we wouldn’t have been able to do that last year. So, just finding a way to grit it out and find a way to change under adversity I think was challenging, but it told me a lot about the team.”
On ASU, which has won four straight including wins vs. Oregon and Oregon State: “They’re playing really well. They’re athletic, they’re physical, so those upsets don’t surprise me as much as they surprise everyone else because of how they play and how difficult it is. But I thought it was huge for them to win both. I knew they’d win one because I think that they’re bigger, they have a lot of depth. So they’re able to really bang up some of the other teams and I think they did a really good job.”
On Cate Reese’s hand injury: “She’s perfectly fine. She just fell hard on her hand and then it was just a little swollen and sore on the palm of her hand, but there’s no ligament (damage), there’s nothing broken. It’s just when it’s wrapped up it’s harder to shoot and then you’re thinking about it as a player, but like it’s not limiting or she’s perfectly fine. Thank goodness. Because we haven’t been 100 percent healthy since Texas. So I’m hoping Friday her finger gets better and that’ll be the first time that we’re healthy since November.”
On playing a complete 40 minutes of basketball: “Well, the first thing is us not giving up runs or going through droughts. .. We go through these like five-, seven-minute patches without scoring and getting stops. We can’t do that. We know our defense is consistent...so that’s something we can control. I think the other thing is taking good shots in those tough times under stress. That’ll help us play 40 minutes of better basketball. But what happens is, let’s say during that seven minutes we’re playing pretty good defense, but then we don’t score. I think the games that we play better, we’re playing good defense but then we’re scoring because your more energized on defense when you’re scoring and you’re confident.
“So it’s finding a way to take better shots that are makable shots. Because when things are hard for us, we tend to take quick, rushed shots. And that’s not good. We take quick, rushed shots when we need to use the clock and get a good shot that’s a higher percentage. ... When you’re on defense for a long time, you need to have a long offensive possession. Now if you get a quick steal, then you can have a quick offensive possession because you had a quick defensive possession. ... So I guess in a nutshell for my philosophy, if you don’t have balanced, organized offense like knowing what play and where the shots come from, then you’re not balanced and organized on defense.”
On Arizona needing to rebound better: “We have to come out hungry. I think we did a good job of that against ASU at ASU. We came out on fire, intense. You could see it in their eyes. So starting the game strong, I think that’s key because we’re at home and I think for us it’s a lot less pressure because we won there. That was a hard game. So now if we don’t win here, worst case scenario you split with ASU, it’s not a bad thing. They’re ranked higher. So for us, it’s a great opportunity. There’s no stress.”
On ASU’s deep rotation and balanced scoring: “Well, that’s what makes them so dangerous. That’s why I talked about balance on our team. That’s why you want balance. It’s a different style. That’s not a style I would coach. That would be hard for me, but (Charlie Turner Thorne) does a really good job and that’s the system.
“You just gotta play everybody the same because they really have 10 people that could start, and they just rotate them in. But I think they’re different. I think one lineup’s a little bit more athletic and more skilled. One is just probably more skilled, less athletic. So I think we just have to play our defense, and play our style, and just bring in. It’s going to be a tough game. But I think we’ve played a lot of good teams. I think there were some games we felt like we should have won, and we play a lot better at home, it would be nice to win a game at home, because we only seem to be able to win on the road right now.”
On hosting UCLA and USC after ASU: “That’s a good home stretch, and I think it’s really important for the standings in the conference to win these games. We have not peaked it. We have not played our best basketball but I don’t want to peak in January. I want to peak in March. So we’re just working on getting better. We need to be better than we were at ASU, just like ASU is better. So I’m going to see what our mentality is on Friday. I think they’re locked in and ready, but I want to see us step up and perform, and I think we can.”