When the NCAA selection committee released its final in-season seeding projections, Arizona women’s basketball was pegged at No. 11 overall. That would have comfortably made the Wildcats a three-seed and given them the right to host the opening rounds for the first time since head coach Adia Barnes was still playing. After losing in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament, will the team still get to play on its home court?
The Wildcats were almost assured of the right to host two years ago, but the pandemic forced the tournament to be called off. Last year, they once again would have hosted, but the pandemic forced them to play in a bubble in San Antonio instead. The hope was that this team would finally get to fulfill the dream that the previous two were denied.
Barnes made her case after the loss to the Colorado Buffaloes in Las Vegas.
“I would say we deserve that four seed,” Barnes said. “We’re not healthy right now, but we put our work in all year. We have an incredible environment where I’d be shocked if we didn’t sell out, which is good for our game. And we’re a good team. We’ve had some bad losses lately, but we’ve beat some really good teams throughout the year.”
One thing in their favor is that the Wildcats are getting healthy. Leading scorer Cate Reese was not wearing her sling at the Pac-12 Tournament and was on the court grabbing some balls for her teammates as they warmed up. Since that time, the program has posted a video of Reese shooting to their Instagram story. Barnes said that she might have been able to play Reese, who was already shooting by the time the conference tournament came around, but it wouldn’t be in the team’s or Reese’s best interests.
“It wouldn’t be constructive,” Barnes said. “It wouldn’t be productive for the tournament. So honestly, the NCAA Tournament’s more important than the Pac-12 Tournament.”
But what are the objective criteria for the Wildcats to get a top 16 seed and host the opening rounds in McKale Center?
Of the ranking systems, the only ones that matter are the last top 16 released by the committee and the latest NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). In each of the previous committee releases, they have had Arizona seeded about two spots higher than the Wildcats’ NET. That makes the latest NET important because the team currently sits at No. 18 in that ranking system. If the committee’s previous tendencies hold, that should still give the Wildcats the final No. 4 seed. It would just mean that they are up against the top No. 1 seed.
Who will that top No. 1 seed be? It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that it would be South Carolina until the Gamecocks lost in their conference championship game. The question is whether that now falls to Stanford. Could the Wildcats finally get a second matchup with the Cardinal after only getting one during the season?
As of now, Charlie Creme at ESPN believes the Wildcats will get that final No. 4 seed and stay home. He also believes that they will be in South Carolina’s path with the Gamecocks retaining the top overall seed.
It would be an interesting matchup if things play out as Creme suggests. Arizona would play Mountain West champs UNLV in his estimation. Wildcat super senior Sam Thomas would face younger sister Jade Thomas. It would also bring Khayla Rooks, the daughter of the late Wildcat Sean Rooks, to McKale Center. Finally, former Sahuaro standout Alyssa Brown would come home to Tucson to play in front of friends and family.
For the committee, it could be the best of all possible worlds. They get to keep the opening rounds in a city that is likely to sell out its arena, earn plenty of money, and look good on TV. They have several story lines, including a hometown girl on the roster of the Wildcats’ first-round opponent. And Arizona doesn’t necessarily get a break with the possibility of playing Notre Dame in the second round and South Carolina down the road.
Selection Sunday will tell the tale.