It wasn’t that long ago when coaches would blow up Adia Barnes’ phone, wondering if they could set up a date with the Arizona Wildcats.
For many programs, especially mid-majors, such a game represented a chance to knock off a Pac-12 team on its homecourt. To capture a statement win, if you will.
Loyola Marymount, Long Beach State, Hawaii, San Diego State and North Texas all escaped McKale Center with wins in Barnes’ first three seasons at the helm, with three of those UA losses coming back in 2017-18 when the Wildcats went 6-24.
But now that Arizona is a top-15 team—and climbing—Barnes’ phone has gone dry. Very few coaches are brave enough to bring their teams into a raucous McKale Center. That it’s May and the 2020-21 non-conference schedule is not yet complete is a testament to that.
“As we got better throughout the season, the games got harder to fill,” Barnes said. “We literally have had three games we’ve had to fill for like over eight months. And then finally, with some help from the [athletic director] and different situations, we got the games filled or we still wouldn’t have had them. And I’m even offering to pay for teams. People don’t want to come to McKale and play. And that’s never been a problem I’ve had. Because before people were calling off the chart, like everybody was trying to play us.”
Barnes has been picky about who she schedules too. She has been particularly wary about overloading Arizona’s non-conference schedule since the Pac-12 already puts them through the wringer as it is. But as the Wildcats’ win totals have increased, so too has her willingness to beef things up.
In 2020-21, the Wildcats will host Texas as they look to sweep a home-and-home series against the Longhorns. It could mark the first time since 2008 that Arizona hosts a ranked team in the non-conference season.
The Wildcats are also scheduled to play in a tournament in Las Vegas around Christmastime that features LSU, UNLV and Missouri State. LSU won 20 games this year.
In December, Barnes hinted at a possible date with Gonzaga, who finished the 2019-20 season ranked 13th in the AP poll, just one spot below Arizona. Sources say it is almost certain to happen. The Wildcats could also face “two other good teams,” Barnes said in December.
As of Friday, she still had one more game to schedule. Her patience is being tested.
“We’ve tried everybody and so I’m kind of waiting now because things are changing in conferences,” Barnes said, alluding to the ramifications of the coronavirus crisis. “A lot of people aren’t allowed to travel and fly. People are having to cancel non-conference games, so then I’m going to try to get someone who’s close. But it’s been a nightmare. And the Pac-12 notoriously doesn’t have $200,000 to spend on guarantees like the SEC or certain schools spend, so we’ve never done that and we’ve never had to. But now the reality is changing. We’re having to pay people to come in here and play because they don’t want to come here. Which is a good problem to have, right? But it is a problem. It takes a lot of work.”