The eleventh-ranked Arizona women’s basketball team heads into one last home game before spending the Thanksgiving holiday playing in the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. The game against Marist on Friday night isn’t the only storyline around the program this week, though.
Giving back to the community
Arizona head coach Adia Barnes has always stressed giving back to the community. Even at games, she wants her team to be part of Tucson. It’s evident in the way the players line up at the end of every home contest, win or lose, and run around the court, high-fiving the fans who come down to greet them.
It stretches far beyond the arena and far beyond basketball, though. On Thursday, Barnes talked about a young man she had just visited at Banner - University Medical Center. There was something that was important to him that she wanted to make happen. It’s something small, but something that could make a big difference in the daily comfort of patients and their families.
Marcellino “Lino” Cordova has been dealing with leukemia for over a decade. That’s most of his young life. As he fights, he is thinking of others in his position, Barnes said.
He told her that the tissues the hospital hands out are too small and lacking in absorbency to be much help. Barnes wants to see boxes of full-size, quality tissues made available, and she is asking that the community helps. She is setting up a last-minute drive for Friday’s game, asking that fans bring new boxes of quality-brand tissues and donate them at McKale Center. Her hope is to get at least 5,000 boxes.
“I want to be greedy and get more because I think that’s something small and something we can do,” Barnes said. “And dedicate tomorrow’s game to Lino and the hashtag is #LinoStrong. He’s a fighter, and he’s fighting really hard right now. So the least we can do is get those 5000 Kleenex boxes... It’s something special to me and I really want to make him happy to do that. He’s gonna FaceTime in tomorrow. Just a great kid with a huge heart thinking about other people during his hardest time.”
Who takes the last shot?
Back on the court, there’s a question in the minds of many fans. For the past several years, when the game was on the line, Aari McDonald was taking the shot. It’s why everyone knew her final shot would either win or lose the national title last April.
“Aari hasn’t played with us for three games,” senior guard Bendu Yeaney said.
So, who has the mindset and the ability to step up and perform what was McDonald’s role for three years? Against Louisville, it was Yeaney.
Yeaney has never averaged double figures in scoring, even in her days with Indiana. She scored 9.7 points per game her sophomore year in Bloomington. In fact, she said that she’s fine having two points if she can get 10 assists.
One game doesn’t make Yeaney the go-to at game’s end in the future. Like everything else, that will be by committee this season.
“We practice how we play,” Yeaney said. “And so there’s different situations in practice that everybody different has different times to take those shots. Like I said, it was just my time. I was open and I knocked them down, but it’s going to be everybody this year, not gonna be just me, it’s going to be Sam (Thoms), Cate (Reese), maybe Lauren (Ware), Shaina (Pellington).”
The gold jersey
In practice, players compete for the gold practice jersey based on performance.
“It used to be the Cate Reese Jersey,” Barnes joked. “She always got it.”
Winning isn’t just about scoring points or grabbing rebounds, although those things are part of the equation.
“It’s not all like statistics stuff,” Barnes said. “Some of it’s like body language added to those things. And then it’s calculated daily and at the end of the week, the person with the most points wins.”
This season, it’s already been won by some of Arizona’s younger players. Freshman Anna Gret Asi has been victorious. This week, it was sophomore point guard Derin Erdogan who won a four-player race in the closest competition Barnes has seen in a while.
“It’s the first time in two years she had ever won it,” Barnes said. “So that was pretty cool to see different people...and Derin was really happy.”
Barnes believes it’s working even though the players try to play it cool.
“I think they act like they don’t care as much but they do because they’re always there checking the numbers,” she said. “ It’s fun. I never had a gold jersey in college. I wish I would have.”