It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Another tragedy was not supposed to put an end to an NCAA Tournament appearance for the Arizona Wildcats.
Yet, there it was. An announcement by the NCAA that all winter and spring sporting events had been canceled, and a single word from Adia Barnes:
Devastating!— ADIA BARNES ⬇️ (@AdiaBarnes) March 12, 2020
Just after 2 p.m. MST, the NCAA announced that all competition had been canceled effective immediately. That meant no NCAA tournaments for either the women or the men, and no more regular season games for spring sports like softball.
For the women of Arizona basketball, it is especially devastating. The team won 23 regular season games, their most since 2000, and one game in the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament to end the season 24-7.
The Wildcats were slated to host the first two rounds of the tournament as one of the NCAA’s top 16 seeds and ESPN’s Charlie Creme had them as a No. 3 seed after the Pac-12 tournament ended.
“I just had to tell my team that our season is over,” Barnes posted on Twitter. “Just like that. We worked so hard. We were getting ready to host in the NCAA Tourney, we had not been there in 15 years.”
The tragedy of 15 years ago makes the lost opportunity even more difficult. For the second time in a decade-and-a-half, Arizona will miss the chance to play tournament basketball in front of their fans because of an unforeseen tragedy.
In 2006, the NCAA process required schools to bid for the right to host the opening two rounds of the tournament in advance. Having only missed the tournament twice in the previous decade, Arizona took a year off from hosting the men’s tournament and put the bid in for the women’s.
The tournament was in McKale Center that year, but Arizona wasn’t. They were rocked by the death of star Shawntinice Polk, who succumbed to a pulmonary embolism just two months before the season. The Wildcats had their first losing season since 1995—Barnes’ freshman year—and missed the tournament.
After 15 years of tragedy and struggle, the 2019-20 team used their WNIT success from last season to spring back into the national conversation. It all ended in order to prevent more deaths. A more than valid reason, but still a heartbreaking decision for the coaches and players.