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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Adia Barnes keeps energy high heading into Arizona WBB’s third March Madness run in a row

Madeleine Viceconte
Coach Adia Barnes calls a timeout and talks to her players during the game against Oregon in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament on Friday, March 8 at the Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The No. 7 seed Arizona women’s basketball team tips off against No. 10 seed West Virginia University in the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 17, at 9 a.m. MST. The game will be played in College Park, Maryland in XFINITY Center.

Arizona has taken the last week to prepare after an unceremonious exit from the Pac-12 Tournament in the first game, falling 73-59 at the hands of UCLA. This loss was one of the factors contributing to the relatively low No. 7 seed, with the other being the final two games of the season where the Wildcats fell short against opponents many thought they should have handled.

The Wildcats are set to make their 10th trip to the NCAA Tournament with their eyes set on finally winning it all. This is their third appearance in the tournament under head coach Adia Barnes, who took control as head coach before the 2016-17 season.

The Wildcats have not always enjoyed this level of success, though.

The pre-Barnes era: 1991-2016

The last coach to lead Arizona to an NCAA Tournament appearance was Joan Bonvicini, who led the Wildcats to seven appearances in her 17 seasons at the helm. She led Arizona women’s basketball from 1991-2008.

At the peak of their power, Bonvicini led the Wildcats to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 1996-2000, advancing to the Sweet 16 in the 1998 Tournament. After a two-year tournament drought, Bonvicini brought the Wildcats back to postseason play in the 2003 Tournament. The Wildcats lost in the first round, but they went back to the tournament in the two following seasons as well.

Bonvicini is the only other coach to lead Arizona women’s basketball to the NCAA Tournament. She was the first coach to end the season with a winning record, going 24-7 in the 1992-93 season, her second year as head coach. This would be the first of her 12 seasons where she ended with a winning record. The furthest the team reached in the NCAA Tournament under Bonvicini was their Sweet 16 appearance in 1998.

Bonvicini only posted four seasons where the Wildcats failed to reach a .500 record. The Wildcats were 9-19 in her first season, but she followed that up with the first winning record in Arizona women’s basketball history. The other three losing seasons were her undoing, coming in three straight years from 2005-08.

Arizona moved on from Bonvicini before the 2008-09 season.

Former University of Tennessee standout Niya Butts served as head coach of the Arizona women’s basketball team for eight seasons from 2008-16. The Wildcats posted a winning record in just one of her eight seasons, going 21-12 in the 2010-11 season. They were unable to qualify for the tournament in their best year under Butts and never spent a week ranked inside the AP Top 25 under her leadership.

The Barnes era: 2016-present

A fifth straight losing season from Butts’ team signaled that a change was needed. A familiar face was brought back to lead Arizona women’s basketball in Barnes, a Wildcat alum. She was hired on April 4, 2016.

“I’m extremely excited for the opportunity to be the next head coach at my alma mater,” Barnes said in a statement at the time. “I’m looking forward to working with the young women in Arizona’s basketball program as well as the wonderful people in McKale. Arizona has such great resources and some of the best facilities in women’s basketball.”

Barnes, who played under Bonvicini and made three all-conference selections before graduating in 1998, is Arizona women’s basketball’s all-time leading scorer with 2,237 points. She played in the WNBA for 12 years and won a championship in 2004 with the Seattle Storm.

“I also believe the Tucson community does a great job of supporting the women’s basketball program, which we’ll need as we navigate the toughest conference in the country, the Pac-12,” Barnes said.

She knows a thing or two about the so-called “conference of champions.” After her playing career ended, Barnes spent five years as an assistant coach on the University of Washington’s staff. During her time on staff, the Huskies posted five straight winning seasons and two straight NCAA Tournament appearances in 2015 and 2016.

Arizona grabbed its head coach in the immediate aftermath of a Washington loss in the Final Four at the end of the 2015-16 season.

Since her return to the Tucson campus seven seasons ago, the women’s basketball team has posted five winning seasons. Her only losing seasons to date were her first two, going 14-16 in her first year, then dipping to 6-24 in her second season in 2017-18. The Wildcats finally returned to their winning ways in 2018-19 by going 24-13. Since then Barnes’ squads haven’t won less than 21 games in a season since.

The 2023 tournament is Arizona’s third straight appearance under Barnes’ leadership. The Wildcats made it to the championship game in the 2021 tournament before falling to fellow Pac-12 opponent Stanford University.

Barnes has proven she can get the Wildcats into the ring for the final fight. Now, she just has to get them over the hump.

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