It seems like an ideal situation. No. 14 Arizona needs just one win this weekend to guarantee a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament next week. The Wildcats get things started against an Oregon Ducks team that is on a seven-game losing streak and has lost nine of its last 10 games.
No one is getting ahead of themselves, though.
“These are the hardest games, I think,” said Arizona head coach Adia Barnes. “They have lost like 10 of 11 and I think seven in a row. So, those are the teams that you can relax against and lose to.”
With a weekend sweep, Arizona has a chance to catch Colorado for the No. 3 seed, as well. If the Wildcats win both games and the Buffaloes go 1-1, the two teams would end up tied. Arizona would own the tiebreaker by virtue of beating USC unless Washington State surpasses the Women of Troy this weekend. No. 3 Stanford is on its way to Boulder, so there’s a distinct possibility that the Buffs could lose at least one game this weekend.
Although No. 8 Utah still has a chance at passing Stanford for the top seed in the Pac-12 tourney, if Arizona remains fourth in the conference, it will likely mean being slated to meet the Cardinal in the semifinals.
“We don’t want that,” Barnes said.
She knows the Ducks won’t go down without a fight with all that’s on the line for them.
“To go the NCAA Tournament, they need to win two games this week,” Barnes said. “Need...to sweep this weekend and they need to win two games in the Pac-12 tournament. So, that puts a little pressure on them.”
Barnes said that she sees a few differences in what Oregon is doing as they try to get out of the funk they’re in but not a lot will change from what the Wildcats saw in Tucson earlier in the season.
“They’re pressing a little bit more,” Barnes said. “They have a diamond press. I think they’re gonna still zone us. They’re not gonna change their identity, but [more pressing is] just some of the stuff they’re doing because they haven’t had success lately.”
Despite being on a major losing streak, Oregon is still No. 25 in the NET—just two spots behind Arizona. The Ducks maintain that position because of aggressive nonconference scheduling by Oregon head coach Kelly Graves and the strength of the Pac-12.
While NCAA women’s basketball doesn’t officially use the quad system used by the men’s NET, it’s still helpful to break down opponents based on quads to understand how UO could still be so high in that metric despite barely being over .500 overall and sporting a 5-11 record in Pac-12 play.
Oregon played 14 games against what would be Quad 1 opponents in the men’s game. Arizona played 10. Despite the fact that the Wildcats went 6-4 in those games while the Ducks went 3-11, UO still gets a lot of credit in the NET simply for playing those games.
UA had most of its games against Quad 2 and Quad 3 opponents. Arizona played six games against second-level opponents and eight against third-level opponents. The Wildcats went 4-2 against Quad 2 foes and won all eight games against Quad 3 teams. Meanwhile, the Ducks played just four games against Quad 2 (going 2-2) and went 4-0 against those in Quad 3.
Each team played just three teams who are equivalent to Quad 4 opponents. They both went 3-0.
Despite having very little success against Quad 1 and Quad 2 opponents, the fact that the Ducks had 18 games that ended up falling in those groups compared to the 16 for the Wildcats mattered—especially when 14 of those 18 Oregon games came against the toughest opponents.
Oregon is not projected in the NCAA Tournament field by ESPN as of now. The Ducks know they need to make some noise or their streak of going to the Big Dance likely ends. They have not missed the NCAA Tournament since the 2015-16 season when they played in the WNIT.
In addition to the Ducks’ motivation on the court, the people in the stands will probably have extra motivation, too. The Oregon fans are likely to be fired up for Arizona’s first visit to Matthew Knight Arena since the controversial game at UO last season. That game ended with an Arizona loss, reports from Oregon fans of Barnes making an obscene gesture, accusations of Graves using profanity and misogynistic slurs aimed at Barnes during the game, and Barnes declaring that the Wildcats got “homered” in her postgame press conference.
In the end, Barnes was reprimanded by the Pac-12 for her postgame comments about the officiating and apologized for her actions on the court. While she told the media that she had been called a bitch before and would likely be called that again, she refused to go beyond that in detailing what Graves said about or to her during the game or even whether he was the one who had used the word “bitch.”
“So, I’m probably called a lot of names, but I’ve been called a b-i-t-c-h before,” Barnes said four days after that game. “It’s not gonna be the first, it’s not the last, and that really doesn’t bother me at all. It’s like whatever.”
Graves made no apologies, saying that events had been blown out of proportion and were just two competitive people in the heat of the game.
The Ducks’ backs-against-the-wall motivation and the possibility of an especially hostile environment aside, Barnes feels good about where her team is right now. After losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, she said that she didn’t feel good about how the team was functioning late in the year. Those feelings aren’t hovering over her with this squad.
“I think we’re playing some of our best basketball right now,” Barnes said. “I think we’re playing defense. I think we’re clicking better. Not everybody’s playing their best, but we’re peaking at the right time as a team.”
No. 14 Arizona Wildcats (21-6, 11-5 Pac-12) @ Oregon Ducks (14-13, 5-11 Pac-12)
When: Thursday, Feb. 23 at 8 p.m. MST
Where: Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore.
TV: Pac-12 Oregon
Streaming: Streaming is available via the Pac-12 Now app or online. Both options require a subscription via a TV provider. Streaming is also available with a subscription to a TV package that includes the Pac-12 Network via Sling, Fubo, or Vidgo.
Radio: Listen to the call by Derrick Palmer online on The Varsity Network or on the radio at KTUC 1400 AM.
Stats: Oregon Live Stats
Rankings and standings: Arizona is ranked No. 14 by the Associated Press and the WBCA coaches poll. Oregon is not ranked by the AP, but it is still receiving votes from the coaches.
The Wildcats are No. 14 in the Massey Rating, No. 23 in the NET, and No. 28 in the Her Hoop Stats Rating. The Ducks are No. 25 in the NET, No. 30 according to HHS, and No. 32 in Massey.
Arizona currently stands at No. 4 in the Pac-12 while Oregon is ninth.
Projections and Odds: Both Massey and Her Hoop Stats project Oregon as the winner of this game. Massey gives the Ducks a 58 percent win probability and projects 70-66 as the most likely score. Her Hoop Stats gives UO a 57.7 percent win probability. The stats service projects a 2.3-point margin of victory with a point total of 137.8.
As of 11 a.m. MST on Feb. 23, no one has odds for the game. DraftKings Sportsbook has Arizona tied with North Carolina State and Iowa State with the 14th-best chance at winning the national championship in April. All three teams are at +7500.
How to follow along: Follow us on Twitter @AZDesertSwarm for all things Arizona Wildcats. For live tweets of women’s basketball and news throughout the week, follow our deputy editor @KimDoss71.