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Rebuilt California roster brings more balance to match-up against Arizona women’s basketball

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 20 Women’s - Jerry Colangelo’s 2023 Hall of Fame Series - Gonzaga vs Arizona Photo by Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Arizona Wildcats head coach Adia Barnes knows how quickly transfers can change a program. While it happened before immediate eligibility and the transfer portal, her early success in Tucson came with the introduction of Aari McDonald, Dominique McBryde, and Tee Tee Starks in 2018-19. Charmin Smith may not have a McDonald in her transfer class, but her team has dramatically improved with the introduction of two key transfers this season.

“They’ve added shooters,” Barnes said. “They added a forward shooter and they have a guard that can really shoot it. So, I think they’re just better and more depth. Added better players.

Those additional shooters are former Tennessee forward Marta Suarez and former San Francisco guard Ioanna Krimili. Both average about 29 minutes per game, although Krimili was injured for several weeks during the nonconference season. They also both average double digits in points. Krimili is leading the team with 16.8 PPG and Suarez is second with 12.7 PPG.

Fifth-year guard Leilani McIntosh is also having a strong season for the Golden Bears, helping provide a much more balanced team than they have had in several years. She’s Cal’s third double-digit scorer with 10.8 PPG.

Krimili and McIntosh are hitting a high percentage of their 3-point shots with identical 40.3 percent accuracy from beyond the arc. McIntosh has a higher 3-point field goal percentage than an overall field goal percentage (39.6). Krimili is scoring on 46.3 percent of her shots.

Suarez has come back to earth a bit since conference play started. She has an overall field goal percentage of 41 percent this season, but that drops to 39.2 percent against Pac-12 competition. She drops even more dramatically from the 3-point line, hitting 29.8 percent of her shots from out there during the entire season but just 17.4 percent in conference play.

Still, the team is 13-6 overall and 3-4 in Pac-12 play, albeit with five of its seven conference games played in Haas Pavilion. That almost matches the best mark the Bears have had with Smith at the helm which was 4-14 last season. Since the 2019-20 season, they have averaged 2.5 Pac-12 wins per season, including a forfeit by ASU in 2021-22.

That isn’t because they haven’t had some good players. They welcomed a top 10 class in 2020, which included current seniors Ugonne (Michelle) Onyiah, Ornela Muca, and Alma Elsnitz. While the latter two were internationals and not ranked by most U.S. recruiting services, Onyiah was the country’s 34th-ranked recruit by ESPN HoopGurlz. The rest of the class, including current Washington star Dalayah Daniels, have since left the program.

The Bears also had prolific scorer Jayda Curry for two seasons. Curry’s loss to Louisville via the transfer portal this offseason looked like it could be the death blow for Smith’s tenure in Berkeley, but it hasn’t turned out that way.

“I haven’t followed her at Louisville, but it’s just you kind of add the pieces and they’re pieces that help them score,” Barnes said.

As it turns out, Curry only started the first five games for Louisville. She is scoring 9.8 PPG off the bench after averaging 16.9 in her two years at Cal. She has improved her shooting percentages both inside and outside the arc, though.

The team Curry left behind is more balanced offensively than they were during her time in Berkeley. Last year, she and Kemery Martin were the only two Bears who scored in double figures. Curry scored 22.8 percent of the team’s total points. The year before, Curry was the only player in double figures for the program and scored 26 percent of the team’s points. This season, there are three double-digit scorers in Suarez, Krimili, and McIntosh. Suarez leads with 18.3 percent of the Bears’ total points.

If Arizona is to stop its four-game skid before facing Stanford on Sunday, it will need to counter the improved Bears offense. Defense is where Barnes is focused, but Arizona is at an offensive disadvantage in a high-scoring league.

“We need to get better defensively,” she said. “We’re like one of the best offensive teams in the Pac-12, like 74 points a game, so it’s funny when people are talking about offense...We score as many points as last year, and we don’t have shooters and stuff, and without the ball moving like it should. So I tell them, it’s not the scoring. It’s different if you’re scoring 50 points a game, but you can’t score 74 and give up 75.”

Some of Barnes’ assessments of the offense appear to be based on stats that are no longer accurate. In conference play, Arizona scores 70.1 points per game, good for sixth among Pac-12 teams. This season overall, the team has scored 71.6 PPG, which is back in eighth place.

The Wildcats are near the top of the league in field goal percentage, sitting second behind Colorado at 45.3 percent in conference games. Overall this season, they have hit 44.8 percent of their shots, which lands them in eighth place.

Arizona scored 74.1 points per game last season, which is the highest in Barnes’ tenure. That has dropped by 2.5 PPG this year, which is the second-highest during her time as the Wildcats’ head coach but outside the top half of the conference this season.

The Wildcats are hitting 44.8 percent of their shots, which is the highest in Barnes’ eight years in Tucson. However, that’s seventh in the Pac-12. That number is buoyed by a 49.2 percent success rate inside the arc, the second-best mark in her tenure. Once again, though, the Pac-12 as a group is far superior. Utah leads with a 59.3 percent mark on 2-point shots and Arizona stands eighth.

Still, Barnes sees defense as the key to Arizona’s success both overall and against the Golden Bears. Not only does she see it as the way to stop the Bears from scoring, but she also considers it a key to the Wildcats’ offensive success. With Pac-12 teams currently 11-29 on the road, getting home wins is crucial.

“Transition defense, I think, is an area that we can kind of exploit so we can be good offensively in transition,” Barnes said. “But they’re good and they’re confident and they’re winning games. And I think for us, we need to win some home games because those statistics on the road are pretty bad. Statistically, we do well at home, so we need to win some games.”


California Golden Bears (13-6, 3-4 Pac-12) @ Arizona Wildcats (10-9, 2-5 Pac-12)

When: Friday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. MST

Where: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

TV: Pac-12 Arizona

Streaming: The game can be streamed in the Pac-12 Now app or on pac-12.com. Both require a TV provider log-in.

Radio: Varsity Network

Stats: Arizona Live Stats

Probabilities: Both Her Hoop Stats and Massey give Arizona the edge in this game. HHS has the Wildcats winning both at home or on a neutral court. In McKale Center, the win probability is 67.4 percent with a margin of 5.2 points. The point total is projected to be 133.0 for this game.

Massey gives Arizona an even bigger chance to win. The win probability is set at 75 percent in Tucson. The most likely score is 72-63 according to this projection.

Rankings and ratings: Neither team is ranked in either of the major polls. Arizona is No. 45 in the NET. California is No. 54.

Her Hoop Stats ranks the Arizona offense as the 50th-best in Division I. The Wildcats’ defense is ranked 44th. The stats service has California with the 55th-best offense and No. 67 defense.


How to follow along

Follow us on X (Twitter) @AZDesertSwarm for all things Arizona Wildcats. For live posts of women’s basketball games and news throughout the week, follow our deputy editor @KimDoss71.


Full press conference with Arizona head coach Adia Barnes from Jan. 24, 2024

Full press conference with Arizona freshman guard Skylar Jones from Jan. 24, 2024