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Arizona, Stanford to battle for first place on Monday in Palo Alto

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 28 Women’s Stanford at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s something no one in the Arizona program has done since the 2003-04 season. That year, the Wildcats split the season series and the regular-season title with Stanford. This year, they have the chance to take that title outright in front of a national audience on ESPN2. Once again, it’s Stanford that stands in their path.

The No. 10 Wildcats (15-2, 13-2) didn’t get off to the best start to the weekend. They struggled to put away a California team that was winless at the time. They also know that No. 6 Stanford (20-2, 17-2) handled them easily by a score of 81-54 in the early season matchup in Tucson.

Have things changed?

Arizona head coach Adia Barnes was a bit worried about the team’s mentality after their lackluster game against the Golden Bears on Friday night.

“We were playing better basketball,” she said. “I just think we took a little bit of a step backwards today. I am very confident that we’ll bounce back and play better on Monday, but it’s not about that. I think it’s just about fixing the things and our mentality today coming into the game. That’s just a little bit my concern.”

Whether they win and take over first place isn’t her top concern heading into the big game. It’s about getting ready for the postseason. She doesn’t think everything is lost if Arizona comes out with the loss, but she does want the Wildcats to seize the chances they’ve earned.

“We have to play better or else we don’t beat Stanford,” Barnes said. “Ideally, I want us to play well. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose on Monday. It’s just the way we play because we’re gonna have another opportunity in the Pac-12 Tournament to beat some great teams. So we have a chance to do something special. We’re in a situation right now, we have a chance to be a great seed in the tournament, we have a chance to win the Pac-12 title, we have a chance to win the Pac-12 tournament. These are opportunities that are close to us. So it’s up to us if we’re going to go in and take them or just not get those opportunities.”

The Wildcats will need more help if they’re going to seize the opportunity in front of them. They fell back into old habits by relying almost entirely on Aari McDonald for their scoring against Cal. Against Stanford, that won’t be enough.

Barnes thinks Arizona is a better team now than they were when the Cardinal blew them out in McKale Center. On that night, she said that she knew Stanford was better than they were, but she didn’t think they were 30 points better. Now, the Wildcats need to prove it.

It’s not like it’s out of their reach. Last season, the teams split their regular-season games. The year before, Stanford overwhelmed Arizona in Tucson, then needed a comeback to win by two points in Maples Pavilion.

The Cardinal does present some challenges that most teams don’t, though. They are long and athletic. They are deep. They have solid experience in Kiana Williams and Lexie Hull. They have a series of top-10 recruiting classes that provided top talent like Cameron Brink and Haley Jones. When taken together, the combination of experience, depth and talent are simply better than everyone else in the Pac-12.

Arizona will have the best player on the floor in McDonald, but she will need help. She needs Cate Reese on the floor instead of sitting on the bench with fouls. She needs Sam Thomas and Helena Pueyo to be confident in their shots. She needs Lauren Ware and Trinity Baptiste to grab some boards. She needs backcourt mates Bendu Yeaney and Shaina Pellington to cause some havoc and be threats.

They need to be the Wildcats, not just McDonald’s supporting cast. And they need consistency. Their shooting has been feast or famine this season. If they’re on, like they were against Oregon last Monday, they can beat anyone. When they struggle, they really struggle from the floor, the 3-point line and the charity stripe.

But Barnes doesn’t want them to feel it’s do-or-die.

“It is uncharted territory,” she said. “Stanford’s (won) every year. We haven’t, so I think we have less pressure than them because they’re supposed to win it.”

The Wildcats have the chance to show that whoever is supposed to win it, they’re capable of winning it.

How to follow the game

  • Date/Time: Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 at 7 p.m. MST
  • Location: Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, Calif.
  • TV: ESPN2
  • Radio: Derrick Palmer will have the call on KTUC 1400 AM or online at TuneIn
  • Stats: In-game stats are available on Arizona Live Stats
  • Twitter: Follow us at @AZDesertSwarm. You can also follow our editor at @RKelapire and our reporter at @KimDoss71 for coverage during the game and throughout the season.