The regular season did not end the way the Arizona Wildcats would have liked. A too-close-for-comfort win over winless California. An expected loss to Stanford in which they felt like they didn’t play their best basketball. Then, that bad loss to an Arizona State team that all objective measures say they should have beaten.
That is all in the past now as the postseason tips off Thursday when the Wildcats will face Washington State in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals.
“For us it’s a new season,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “I don’t feel like our team ended as great as we could have, just the way we played and obviously the loss, but now it’s phase two. It’s another season. This is when it all matters. This is what you worked for all year, for these moments.”
The Wildcats will have a good seed in the NCAA Tournament. Not that it matters as much in a season when home court advantage is no longer available, but being a top 16 seed is still a feather in the program’s cap.
Most important right now is just to start playing to their potential again. A Pac-12 title would be great, but it is not a do-or-die achievement. Getting to experience the NCAA Tournament is the focus now.
“I think there’s no pressure,” Barnes said. “I think that just for us we want to end the season, we want to start playing well.”
On the other hand, Barnes also felt that her team was being more harshly judged for lapses than others. She certainly does not see the recent lapses as a reason to shake things up.
“What we’re doing is working,” she said. “We’re talking about losing four games. Two against one of the top teams in the country and two others. So for me it’s a matter of tweaking small things. At this point, you can’t go drastically change your lineup. You can’t change things like that and be successful. So, fixing the small things like knowing what teams do, and figuring out, ‘Okay when they’re doing that, let’s run this action.’ Or maybe don’t put these two players together, or put this player with two other shooters.”
She is confident that players will rise to the occasion of this new season because they already have what they need. They just need to take what they have been given and put it all together, especially on the offensive end of the floor.
“You will see a difference,” Barnes said. “I’ve already played. I can give all the tools... We have maturity. We have senior leaders Aari (McDonald) and Sam (Thomas). So, we have to apply those things. And then it takes other people stepping up. So, you’ve got to give a little more. Cate (Reese has) got to give a little more. Trinity (Baptiste has) got to give a little more. Lauren (Ware has) got to give a little more. Helena (Pueyo). That’s what this time of year is. And, if not, we don’t deserve to win.”
The Wildcats will have the opportunity to step up against Washington State, which defeated Utah 57-48 in the opening round.
Arizona split the season series with the Cougars. The first game was a monumental meltdown where the Wildcats held a 16-point lead with just 2:34 to go in the third quarter, then let the Cougars take the game by two points in overtime.
In Tucson, it was a hard-fought 60-51 victory for the Wildcats. It was more than enough to let Arizona know that Washington State was not merely a one-hit wonder.
“I think at this point, this time of the year, everybody’s good,” Barnes said. “You can’t overlook anybody because if you overlook and look at the next game, you’re probably not gonna get pass the first one. And I think we’ve learned our lesson a couple years in a row, losing our last regular season games, and to me that’s a lack of focus.”
Now comes the test of whether they can get that focus back and take the rubber match against a determined foe.
How to follow the action
- Date/Time: Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 6 p.m. MST
- Location: Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada
- TV: Pac-12 Network
- 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.