Arizona Wildcats coach Adia Barnes said Monday on her radio show that she expects star guard Aari McDonald to play Friday vs. No. 4 Stanford.
McDonald was held out at Utah and Colorado last weekend as she nursed a lower left leg injury. The Wildcats split the road trip, blowing out Utah 85-69 before suffering a grueling 50-38 loss at Colorado in which they shot just 25 percent without their leading scorer.
“We became pretty average and I think when you have a dynamic scorer like Aari, you can open up a lane and she’ll find a way. That’s what an all-star does,” Barnes said. “Every team in the Pac-12 has that, so when you don’t have that, you become average and you have to manufacture (points). You gotta screen, you gotta cut, you gotta use different things and people take away your strengths. So I think it just becomes harder to score because we don’t have someone that can go create and go get a game-winner.”
Barnes added: “So we ran a lot more sets for Sam (Thomas), tried to isolate Cate (Reese), but Cate was having a tough weekend, and tried to kind of go to Dominique (McBryde) more, but without Sam stepping up that game was really hard.
“And...the second game in the Mountains is always harder...because you’re in altitude. I mean, at Colorado, we’re at 5,000 feet. So the second game, your kids are just dead. And I always act like it’s not a factor but I know it’s a factor. So they’re like dying after a minute. I think we were just so fatigued.”
Either way, it wasn’t a detrimental loss. The fourth-place Wildcats have already clinched a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament and can still finish as high as second in the conference if Oregon beats Stanford on Monday in Palo Alto (though a third- or fourth-place is still much more likely).
“The Oregon-Stanford game (on Monday) is huge because on Friday we can be playing for that third spot,” Barnes said. “Third is much different because you don’t face Oregon in the second round.”
Arizona is still on track to lock down a top-16 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament as well, which would give them the right to host the first two rounds of the tourney.
They are ranked 13th in the latest AP poll and check in as a No. 4 seed in Charlie Creme’s latest ESPN bracketology.