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What Adia Barnes, Cate Reese and Sam Thomas said at Pac-12 Media Day

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Final Four - Championship Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

After spending last season doing press conferences via Zoom, Arizona women’s basketball and the league’s other 11 teams were back in San Francisco for Pac-12 Media Day this year. Head coach Adia Barnes and returners Sam Thomas and Cate Reese talked to Ashley Adamson, Mary Murphy, and Ros Gold-Onwude on television. Later, they met with the press for questions.

Video is available at Pac-12.com. Some of the best quotes are below.

On losing Aari McDonald and decreased expectations from outside observers

Reese: “I think, as far as expectations from other people, I think that people think now that Aari is gone, we’re not going to be the same team and I disagree with them because I think we were now able to get players, transfers that are really good. And I think that people believe that if they come here they can do big things and I think that that’s something that Sam and I came here to build so I’m really excited for the season and to see what we can do.”

Barnes: “I think that there’s a big question about, ‘Oh the deficit of Aari.’ I get that. I’d be saying the same thing if I was looking at the outside in. But I’m not looking for one player to fill the void. It’s by committee. Sam’s gonna score a little bit more, do a little bit more and she’s fine with it. Cate’s gonna score a little bit more, do a little more. Ariyah (Copeland) is a great addition. Koi (Love), Taylor Chavez. We have some pretty darn good freshmen. So everybody does a little more, but it’s what we needed anyways, because we were that close. The margin of error is very small. We were that close last year but we didn’t win, so we had to get better anyways. It’s gonna look different, but I’m telling you guys right now we’re going to be a better team. A lot of people don’t think so and I don’t really care. People have their own opinion. To me, it matters how you finish it doesn’t matter how you start. But if we listened to all that, [Cate and Sam] wouldn’t have been here. And if I listened to everybody else before that, I wouldn’t have taken the Arizona job.”

Barnes: “[Aari’s] whole point was to leave her legacy, and the way she did it and helped lead it, it’s just she left her mark on Arizona and the country. I think the country fell in love with Aari.”

Barnes: “People can look and say we’re missing Aari but we’re better, and we’re better because we have more options and we can play different. Last year we couldn’t play different. We had to play defensive style. I think this year we can score better, so I’m happy and I can’t wait to see this year.”

On what’s different this season

Barnes: “I don’t prepare any differently. It doesn’t feel any different. I know that people are like, ‘oh, you know the magical run,’ but it is what it is. That’s last year and the reality is we didn’t win, so it was great to get there but I think that our standards are just really high. And now that they’ve had a taste of success I think they’re just really hungry for more so it doesn’t change our approach, it doesn’t change the way we work. You’re gonna still see us diving on the floor or you know running people over getting balls, that’s who we are, that’s our identity. So, nothing different.”

Barnes: “It really hasn’t changed that much. I think people think it changed a lot. I’m not famous or anything. I think it’s just changed in the sense that everything was so fast after the tournament. We went deep into the tournament, and then USA Basketball. But I had committed to USA basketball in November before that. People don’t know that. I think people thought, you know, we went far and I got USA Basketball.”

Reese: “I think coming off with having experienced now in the NCAA Tournament, the Final Four, we want to go back every year. And I think that that’s our expectation now. That’s the standard. At the beginning, the standard or the expectation was, ‘okay, well, let’s get to the tournament.’ And now it’s like we know we can get to the tournament. We know what we can do.”

Thomas: “Being in the national championship game, we saw, we had the experience. Stanford plays four quarters, great offense, great defense. And that game, we maybe had like three-and-a-half quarters, which is why we obviously lost. So I think now we have the experience of we know what it takes to win the national championship game. Obviously we weren’t able to accomplish it, but this year we’re like, ‘okay, we have to be on our game every practice work hard, and get better at something every day.’”

On fan support and playing in McKale Center

Barnes: “Just want the players to experience a true year of Arizona basketball and what it’s like. Everybody’s excited about women’s basketball this year so just can’t wait for them to have a true experience.”

Thomas: “It’s still the same. We’re still getting recognized at the grocery store, we just have masks on. I think now everyone’s just actually saying, ‘I bought season tickets. We’re going to your game. We’re going to games.’ So now they actually can go to our games. It’s not just, ‘oh, we watched you on TV from home. My whole family was there.’ So it’s great that now they’re gonna actually be able to see what we can do on the court.”

On rumors and coming back for super senior seasons

Barnes on Thomas returning this year: “She’s like the perfect student-athlete that every coach would want to clone and keep forever... She’s a great player. And she’s gotten better every year. She’s a phenomenal selfless player, gives her all on defense, always has the hardest assignment. Off the court, she’s a straight-A student, she won the Elite 90 award. She has the right mentality. She gives time to people. Nice and well-rounded. Was raised from a very good family and I just think all of the things that she stands for is what you want. So she said she was coming back for a super senior year. She turned down a Nike job. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’”

Barnes on Reese returning in 2022-23 and the social media rumors about her status: “We hadn’t...announced yet but Cate Reese is also coming back for a super senior year. It’s been all over Twitter that she’s not. I’m like, ‘You guys don’t know your facts out there.’”

On speaking up about issues off the court

Barnes on working mothers: “I’m very transparent. I think I’ve kind of lived in a different world, being a college athlete then being a pro. So there were a lot of things that I didn’t really know were happening today. Just as far as you look at my circle of friends. It’s Lauren Jackson, who just has kids now. Sue Bird doesn’t have kids. Like the people I played with. So a lot of it was new. I didn’t know that some women can’t pump somewhere. I was like, ‘Wait. Why?” So I think a lot of it I just I wasn’t aware of how hard some of it was. So when I said I was doing it. I was like, ‘yeah, I’m doing that. What’s the big deal?’ So it opened up my eyes and if I can be a voice to help women... I coach women’s basketball. You’re supposed to support women...We have kids. That’s what we do. That’s why you guys are all here.”

Thomas on going to Washington, D.C. to talk about NIL: “That was an experience I will never forget. When they asked me to go I was so shocked. I barely know anything about politics and all the behind-the-scenes stuff, so I was a little scared at first. But then when they said, ‘You’re talking about NIL. We just want to hear from a student-athlete.’ So I was very honored that they would pick me first of all and then to sit on a panel across some amazing men. I think I just represented myself the best that I could. Everyone said I did a good job. I was starstruck in the moment so I just did it and I like blacked out. Didn’t remember anything. But now after going back and looking at it, I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to do that. It was a great speaking experience for me, going all the way to DC to the White House. It was huge and I’m very glad that I did it.”

Reese on having a coach who speaks out: “I think that’s one of the reasons why I came to Arizona. I mean, she sold the dream for me and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to come in, I wanted to play early, but not only that. She’s an amazing woman, without being a coach, she’s just an amazing person. So I think that that was something that I think I could speak for Sam, for so many of the other players that committed there, that she’ll fight for what she believes in and she doesn’t care if anyone else disagrees with her. And I think that that’s such an amazing thing to be able to see and to be able to witness. And she has fought for some amazing things and I’m proud that I chose the place where I could be able to see that and know that that stuff is okay. It’s okay to talk about hard conversations,”