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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Winter is coming

Simon Asher

Arizona women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes gives a pep talk to her team before media day on Oct. 10, 2016. The Wildcats were picked to finish dead last in the Pac-12.

It may not be dungeons and dragons a la Game of Thrones style, but heads are going to roll if Arizona women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes has to sit through another season like this past one. Barnes first season as head coach can best be described in one word, frustrating. This isn’t all due to Barnes as a coach but more the hand she was dealt with coming into the season.

Barnes was handed a team that featured five seniors who won a combined seven conference games in the previous three seasons. The Wildcats went 14-16 this year, but were faced with a Pac-12 Conference that had a lot of talent. In most cases a senior laden team would most likely give you a great jumping off point to begin your head coaching career, and perhaps the five conference wins this past season is a testament to that. However, talent was not in abundance at McKale Center this season and Barnes has been on a warpath to change the roster since the final game against Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Wildcats have added several players over the course of the past few weeks, two transfers and a 2018 commit. Kat Wright, a transfer from Florida Atlantic University, sat out last season due to injury. Prior to that, the six foot forward was considered a threat from the outside, hitting 11 threes in a game against UNC-Charlotte her junior season. Wright hit the second most threes in FAU history her junior season and was the teams second leading scorer averaging just under 12 points per game.

In TeeTee Starks, another transfer, the Wildcats add a much needed presence at guard from a power five conference school, Iowa State. Starks is considered a combo-guard. In fact, in her senior year of high school, Starks played power forward despite her five foot nine frame. She is physical, athletic, and smart, having been named to the 2017 Big-12 All-Academic team last season. Starks isn’t expected to contribute this season but will have two years of eligibility remaining starting 2018-19.

Perhaps the biggest feather in the cap thus far in the Barnes era came this past week when Catherine Reese, the nation’s No. 12 ranked recruit, committed to Arizona despite offers from other schools like her home state Texas Longhorns. Reese is a six foot three forward/center who has a high motor. She has a lot of room for improvement despite being ranked so high in the ESPN Hoopgurlz rankings. Reese is the highest ranked commit in Arizona program history.

Reese joins Arizona guard Bryce Nixon and Washington wing Shalyse Smith for 2018 with another commit or two expected to solidify the class.

Barnes signed her first recruiting class back in November to get ready for the 2017-18 season. That class featured forwards Kiana Chew and Sam Thomas, guards Sam Fatkin and Marlee Kyles and wing Mallory Vaughn. Though the class isn’t heavy on star power, it is solid with a theme that appears to be evident with every recruit so far Barnes has sought out, hard work, academics and players that love the game of basketball.

It is a focus of Barnes in her attempt to change the culture of a basketball program that has been below average since 2005, the last time Arizona made an NCAA Tournament appearance. Women’s basketball has only seen the tournament seven times, its deepest run coming when Barnes was a player and led the team to the Sweet 16 in 1998. Those seven appearances came between 1997 and 2005, nothing before and nothing after. Couple that with the shadow that is cast from a national men’s program and it makes the challenge of turning a mediocre program elite just that much more difficult.

Barnes not only recruited quality prospects for the upcoming seasons, she also put in work to gain the services of Morgan Valley, a three-time national champion with the UCONN Huskies and fellow assistant with Barnes during the Washington Huskies run to the Final Four in 2016. Valley brings credentials in player development and recruiting that Barnes, on surface, has already been able to take advantage of. Valley replaces former assistant Kelly Rae Finley, who left after just one season to take a similar position at Florida.

The Pac-12 is riddled with talent, featuring seven teams which made the NCAA Tournament a season ago, five of which made it to the Sweet 16. Barnes will have her work cut out to completely revamp a downtrodden program, but much like she was as a player, her work ethic and persistence are beginning to payoff, at least on the recruiting trail.

Of course one way the course of next season can change is if one of her current players steps up and takes on a leadership role, ideally Jalea Bennett. Bennett has been an enigma of sorts during her time at UA. A player that has all the athletic ability to compete with the best but hasn’t put it all together in the intangible department to thrive as a top level athlete.

Bennett averaged 6.9 points per game to go along with 2.6 rebounds per game. Hardly earth shattering figures, but she is one of two seniors entering this season, Charise Holloway being the other, that will be relied on heavily at the start of the year.

Holloway has been as inconsistent as they come in three seasons with Arizona. After a solid freshman campaign, the Senior to be sat out her sophomore year before returning to the team this past season. She rode the bench for a majority of the year despite the Wildcats lack of quality depth. Her re-emergence, could be key moving forward for a team that will be limited in terms of experience.

The non-conference schedule hasn’t been solidified yet, but it is expected to be by the end of the month. In years prior the schedule was loaded with schools from smaller conferences. It will be interesting to see if a couple bigger schools will be added to the mix this season.

Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter.

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