The Arizona Wildcats were buzzing when they landed in Corvallis on Thursday, believing they were just one day away from their first game in two weeks. Then they checked their phones and their moods soured quickly.
Their game at Oregon State had been postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the OSU program and they were going to have to hang tight in Corvallis for four more days before taking on Oregon on Monday.
“That’s just a long time on the road,” head coach Adia Barnes said. “If we would have heard that before we got on the plane, we should have stayed home until Sunday. It’s hard keeping them engaged.”
COVID-19 protocols prevent the team from sightseeing, dining in restaurants and even going for walks while on the road. Roommates Cate Reese and Sam Thomas killed time in Corvallis by doing schoolwork and watching TV shows like Vampire Diaries in their hotel room.
“We had already seen it but we watched the last episode and we cried together,” Thomas laughed. “I think that helps with the emotional bonding.”
The Wildcats were able to practice, shoot around and squeeze in some 5-on-5 too, but going two weeks without a real game was a big concern for Barnes, who described their time in Corvallis as “boring” and “a definite change of scenery.” It was 40 degrees and overcast in Oregon.
“I was really worried about how we were going to respond,” she said.
Those concerns proved to be unwarranted because the Wildcats not only crushed No. 11 Oregon 79-59 for their first win in Eugene in 10 years, they were locked in from the opening tip, jumping out to leads of 8-0 and 21-11.
Arizona was uncharacteristically hot from the 3-point line and even outrebounded Oregon’s much-taller frontcourt.
“To keep that focus, be able to come here and win in the matter we did on ESPN for the second time, I’m proud of our players because these are those big stage games,” Barnes said. “They kind of show you where you’re at, tell you a lot about your team, and we’re getting better. We’re getting better at the right time so I’m proud of us. Oregon’s a very good team.”
Thomas said getting back on the court “felt amazing.” She stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, four rebounds, two blocks, two steals and two assists.
“We’ve been waiting for a while,” she said. “First, we were waiting at our home, just practicing in McKale, doing what we can do. And then we’re excited on the plane, getting ready to play Oregon State. And then we had to wait like another four days in our hotel room just sitting there watching everybody else in the Pac-12 play. It was really tough but we’re so happy that we got to play today and on ESPN2. That was just a great feeling.”
While Barnes dismissed the idea that the time off was good for her team to take a breath and get some extra work in, it seemed to help Reese. The junior forward finished with 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting. She swished three 3s, doubling her total for the season and proving some trash talkers wrong in the process.
“I think that time off really allowed me to look at myself and see what I needed to work on,” Reese said. “I was doing a lot better in practice, just getting in the offense, being aggressive. And I think that really helped to transfer over into the game. I hadn’t been as aggressive in the past games that we’ve had.”
The Wildcats now go from having zero games in two weeks to having three in one week. They are scheduled to host Washington State and Washington on Friday and Sunday, respectively.
Barnes isn’t the least bit worried about the quick turnaround. Heck, she tried to schedule a second game against Washington for next Monday or Tuesday but was unsuccessful.
“There’s no challenge because the players want to play,” she said. “I think right now at this point with the situation globally, any game we’re appreciative of. ... We just want to play. I don’t think it matters. We’ll go back, get some rest tomorrow, quick turnaround but I think it’s exciting. I think we feel like we didn’t play our best at Washington State in the second half, so it’s going to be a big game. Washington State is a very good team and playing really well. They had a great win against UCLA, so it’s gonna be a tough weekend but I think we’re feeling pretty good right now.”
Adia Barnes was worried about how Arizona would play at Oregon after more than two weeks off, so obviously she was thrilled about the 79-59 win—especially since it was on ESPN2.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) February 9, 2021
"This is a big-time stage. To win in the manner that we did...I'm proud of the way we played." pic.twitter.com/Mn1y99R0JT
Here's @s_thomas14— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) February 9, 2021
and @cate_reese after Arizona's 79-59 win at Oregon.
The key to Cate's big night? Apparently Oregon was talking trash.
"I definitely took that personal. They said I couldn't shoot." pic.twitter.com/SWuTGFJ9PO