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Taking Stock 2020: How Arizona women’s basketball is looking under coach Adia Barnes

arizona-wildcats-adia-barnes-womens-college-basketball-naismith-award-national-2021-aari-mcdonald Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We haven’t had college sports for nearly five months now due to the coronavirus pandemic, making this the longest offseason ever. Literally, not just figuratively.

But with student-athletes returning to campuses across the country, it looks like our long national nightmare might be over sometime soon. Maybe. Hopefully.

So now is as good a time as ever to take a look at each of the Arizona Wildcats’ 19 different men’s and women’s programs to see what shape they’re in and what prospects they have for the near future.

To help prepare you for the 2020-21 seasons of Arizona’s 19 different men’s and women’s programs we’re breaking down each team and evaluate how it is performing under its current coaching staff, looking at the state of the program before he/she arrived and comparing it to now (as well as looking at this season and beyond).

NOTE: The information in the ‘before’ section has been repurposed from last year’s series to provide continuity.

Next up: Adia Barnes’ women’s basketball team

How it looked before

Of all the major programs at Arizona, none had been down as much—and longer—as women’s basketball. Joan Bonvicini—who was inducted into the Arizona Hall of Fame last Septemberled the Wildcats to seven NCAA tournament appearances between 1997-2005, reaching the Sweet 16 in 1998, but her final three seasons were the start of a downward trend that continued for another decade.

Bonvicini’s successor, Niya Butts, went 102-147 from 2009-16 with only one winning record and just 24 conference victories in eight seasons. Her dismissal opened the door for Arizona to bring home one of the program’s greatest players in Barnes, who from 1995-98 made three all-conference teams and finished as the Wildcats’ career scoring leader.

Barnes came back to Tucson from Seattle, where as an assistant with Washington she was part of a staff that reached the Final Four in 2015-16.

Where things stand now

Technically, Arizona is still defending WNIT champions. So it goes when the 2019-20 season was cut short by the pandemic just before Arizona was headed for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005. The Wildcats, who ranked 12th in the final AP poll, were in great shape to host games during the first weekend after finishing fourth in the ultra-tough Pac-12 and then reaching the conference tourney semifinals, squandering what had been a breakout season for the program.

But two-time All-American Aari McDonald, who was eligible to enter the WNBA Draft, opted to return for a third season in Tucson, giving UA four of its top five scorers back for 2020-21, the other three being senior wing Sam Thomas, junior forward Cate Reese and sophomore guard Helena Pueyo.

Combine that with a trio of transfers—including former Oklahoma guard Shaina Pellington and ex-Virginia Tech forward Trinity Baptiste who could both could start—and a freshman class led by Spanish post Marta Garcia and basketball/volleyball star Lauren Ware, and the Wildcats have all the pieces they need to have another standout season.

And thankfully they still have Barnes, who is under contract through 2023 but was mentioned for offseason vacancies including one at Duke. She made $407,500 last season, far below market value for someone of her recent accomplishments.

One big question

Can they regain the lost momentum? It wouldn’t have been a shock to see Arizona make the Sweet 16 last year, something it has only done once in program history (1997-98), or possibly snuck into the Elite Eight, had the season been able to continue. The same could be said for Barnes’ current squad, but that assumes the motivation will remain.

You have to figure it will for McDonald, who passed up starting her pro career for a chance to take care of unfinished business. Same goes for Barnes, who is due to have her second child soon and whenever the 2020-21 season begins will no longer be coaching an up-and-coming team. The Wildcats are now a known quantity, which means they’ll get more opponents’ best shots, but as long as the team doesn’t try to overdo it, that long-coveted return to the NCAA tourney will happen.