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What Adia Barnes said after Arizona beat BYU to advance to the Sweet Sixteen

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Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats are moving on!

They outlasted No. 11 seed BYU 52-46 in a defensive battle on Wednesday to make the program’s second-ever Sweet Sixteen and first since 1998 when Adia Barnes was a player at the UA.

The Arizona head coach met with the media afterwards to describe the moment and how her team was able to pull through despite trailing by four midway through the fourth quarter. Here is the video and transcript of the interview. (Note: Barnes begins speaking around the 4:50 mark.)

On the win: “I’m so proud of this team. BYU is a really good team. They play hard, they don’t give up, they’re coached really well, they’re relentless. Every time we made a run, they answered back with a big 3 or a big play. Really, really good team. So all the respect for them. I’m just proud of the way my team kind of beared down and found a way to make big plays at the end. I don’t think we played our best today, but we found a way to get the job done. And we’ve handled adversity all year and just to come together and find a way to win, it’s just huge and I’m just so proud of the team. Like, no one believed in us but Obama. Obama is the only one who chose us to even go this far, but the main thing is we believed in ourselves, and we believe in each other and everybody next to us. Just proud of this team.”

On the seniors stepping up at the end: “It means so much. I mean, it starts with Aari (McDonald), but Sam (Thomas) made some big plays, Cate (Reese) was big, Trinity (Baptiste) got in foul trouble, but then she made big plays down the stretch. Just everybody. And remember this is uncharted territory for our program. We haven’t ever been here. I was here as a player 20 something years ago and that’s the last time the program had been there. So Aari, Sam, Cate, they’ve never been here with Arizona, and we only had three players that have been to the tournament, and that’s Shaina (Pellington) and that’s Aari and Bendu (Yeaney). So as a team, this was all new to us. Being a higher seed, coming to the tournament with a target on our back, it’s hard. It’s hard to get wins because everybody’s so good. There’s so much parity in women’s basketball, so just proud of the big plays (we made). Aari, it wasn’t her best game, Sam it wasn’t her best game but we found a way to make big shots when it counted, and just found the way to bear down and get the win and just proud. So proud so happy.”

On finally being able to stave off BYU at the end: “We were down by two at half. We know number 12 (Lauren Gustin) rebounds hard, even the guards go in and crash hard, and they’re really good players. So I knew we had to get stops. I think for a while we were just kind of exchanging baskets or neither team was scoring and then every time we went on a run, they kind of came up with 50-50 balls in the third quarter. So we said in the fourth quarter they can’t do that. We had to have all the passion plays, and I think that Aari and the starters or whoever’s on the court, they did a really good job of taking our defense up a notch down the stretch. We saw steals and Aari converted a couple steals. So we just found a way. I think that it wasn’t our best game but we did the necessary plays to win, and that’s all that matters. This is March so everybody has a chance. It’s one game. It’s survive and advance, and we did that today, so just proud of our overall effort. I’m proud of everybody even the bench was great. And everybody did their part and so a great team effort.”

On Aari scoring 10 points in the final five minutes. Is that McDonald time? “It’s always McDonald time. It’s always 40 minutes of McDonald time. Aari came back (to school), came on a mission, came to Arizona to do something special, and she’s just done that. She decided to not go pro, she decided to come back because she wanted to leave her mark, leave her legacy, and take this team on her back and take us to great things and she’s done that. Great players shine at the right time. And so she hit big shots. It wasn’t her best game. I mean, shots were in and out the first half, didn’t really have her legs under her, and we were a little bit gassed at times because of all the adrenaline. But then she showed up, got stops and made big plays that she needs to and that’s what stars do. She stepped up at the right time when her team needed her. And that helps us find a way to win and that’s what great players do. These are tough times everybody’s so good, BYU is a great defensive team, they weren’t guarding some of us, they were sagging in the paint to not let Aari drive. She didn’t get frustrated when she made some mistakes. Like, she had a turnover driving, didn’t get frustrated, stuck with it and made some big plays and that’s the only reason why we won the game.”

On her emotions when the final buzzer sounded: “The last minute and a half was pretty long. I was like, ‘this is a long last minute.’ It was long. I was getting hot, I had to pull off the jacket. At least I didn’t throw it, but it was just surreal. Like, because it was so tight, we came up with some big plays and just those last seconds, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to Sweet Sixteen. We got this game. ‘Just excited, so happy for our players. We’ve always believed in ourselves. First of all, no one thought we would be second the Pac-12. No one thought we’d really make it far in the tournament because we don’t have experience... but believed in ourselves. We believed in our abilities. We knew we could go far and win some games and that’s all that mattered. So just being able to celebrate with them on the floor and just so happy and all our hard work paid off and this was a tough year. COVID has been a tough year for all the players. Being resilient, being on lock down all the time, being at the NCAA Tournament, a lot going on, it’s not easy. And so I told our team before we even came here that the toughest team mentally, and the teams that can handle adversity and handle being locked in, handle things being different, are probably the teams are going to be more successful. We’ve seen all kinds of upsets,. It’s a different year. But this team is resilient. This team is not ready to go home. And we’re here to win some games and I’m confident we can go a lot further.”

On making the Sweet Sixteen as a player vs. coach: “Yeah, it’s very different because as a player you don’t understand all the work that goes into it. Coaching is a lot harder than playing because as a player you’re kind of oblivious to a lot of things. You just kind of go out and play. I think as a coach, it’s harder. There’s so many more factors and so much more preparation, hours of preparation for scouts, film, like all the hard work. And then you can’t go out on the floor and execute, you just gotta coach to execute and hope that the team can execute with you and preparing them for practices. So I feel like we’ve prepared the team all but it’s them. They go out there and they fight. Like, we play our hard. We don’t give up. We are blue color we are. It can be ugly sometimes. We don’t care. They play 40 minutes or however long it takes. That’s our identity that’s who we are. So I’m proud because that’s how I was the player. They’re gritty, they’re not afraid. So I love that but it’s more meaningful as a coach. Hands down, no doubt about it. It feels better, it’s more special. I like watching the players, seeing their hard work. Seeing Aari evolve since she was a high school in sophomore. Seeing Sam grow, seeing Cate grow, it’s fun. I think it’s way more rewarding as a coach.”

On being the first person to lead Arizona to the Sweet Sixteen as a player and coach: “I mean, it means a lot. I just played so long ago. It means a lot because when I came to the program when I first took the job, no one even thought this was a good job. We were picked 11th and 12th for the last 10 years before I got it. And so players like Aari that came here and believed in Arizona being able to do something special, believed in the vision that we talked about, no one else did. And then Cate and then Sam. I mean, Aari was on the sidelines sitting out when we won six games. Sam went through that. Cate was watching that, but still came to Arizona. So all these players are the players that believed in Arizona when no one else did. And so it is more important that to win with these players. It’s different now. Now we’re getting we’re on all the top kids list because we’re winning. But the players that came here and built this, they’re the foundation, the Aaris, Dominiques, Tee Tees, Amari, Sam, Cate those players came here, and believed in the vision and so it’s so rewarding to stand there and celebrate with them. It’s very meaningful for me because they believed in us when no one in the country did. And so I’m just happy to celebrate with them and we were doing what we set out to do, and we believed in each other. We believed in the process and it’s not about the end result, it’s about the process and all we’ve learned along the way and just living in the moment and when we’ve done that.”