The last time the Arizona Wildcats took the court in a competitive event was March 7, 2020 against Oregon. That game was in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament as both teams headed towards what were expected to be deep runs in the NCAA Tournament.
The stakes may have been higher, but the game against Northern Arizona on Sunday, which will be held in a fan-free McKale Center, may be more meaningful.
In the run-up to the season, one Arizona player after another has talked about how she just wants to play. Sophomore guard Mara Mote has said that her biggest concern coming into season wasn’t COVID-19 but whether she would be able to get back into the U.S. from her native Latvia.
Along with the other six international players on the roster, Mote is back with her team and ready for Sunday’s opening tip versus the Lumberjacks.
As has been the case for the past two years, the headliner of the evening will be getting to watch Aari McDonald take the court. It’s likely the final year the Wildcat faithful will have to watch the best player to ever wear the uniform before she’s off to the professional ranks.
McDonald is the leader of the team, but there’s little doubt that this is also the deepest Wildcat team in program history. Fellow preseason All-Pac-12 teammates Cate Reese and Sam Thomas give the Wildcats talent inside and on the wing. Grad transfer Trinity Baptiste gives them an elite rebounder. Sophomores Helene Pueyo and Mote have superb accuracy from distance. Junior transfer Shaina Pellington provides speed to rival McDonald’s. Freshman Lauren Ware was one of the top recruits in the country and gives the Wildcats even more interior strength.
And that’s just the beginning of the depth.
Some of that depth might not see the floor much, though. Unlike in a regular season when non-conference games provide opportunities to get young players some experience, head coach Adia Barnes said that she doesn’t have that luxury with the tough Pac-12 schedule coming up after just one non-conference game.
In all likelihood, the only thing that can stop the Wildcats is the pandemic. And it’s taken its toll both on this team and around women’s basketball.
A false positive test for the novel coronavirus put half the team in quarantine for a few days. Barnes has been desperately searching for additional non-conference games that don’t appear to be forthcoming. To make matters worse, at least three teams in the Pac-12 may be facing impending restrictions on their ability to practice and play—including the Los Angeles teams, who are set to play Arizona next week.
For now, the team just wants to put that aside and get on the court against NAU. Then, they and the rest of women’s college basketball will just have to cross their fingers and hope for the best.
How to watch and follow the game
Start time: Tip off is noon MST on Sunday, Nov. 29.
Location: McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
TV/Streaming: The game will be available via Arizona Live Stream only.
Radio: Derrick Palmer will have the call on TuneIn or on 1400 AM
Stats: In-game stats are available on Arizona Live Stats.