The Arizona Wildcats’ women’s basketball team announced its arrival to the nation in a 25-point shellacking of the Texas Longhorns in Austin on Sunday, Nov. 17.
The Wildcats (5-0) earned their first victory over a ranked opponent under fourth-year coach Adia Barnes that night, with guard Aari McDonald scoring a program-high 44 points in the 83-58 victory.
McDonald, who was a key cog in the Wildcats’ Women’s National Invitational Tournament championship team in 2018-19, said the team’s win in Austin sent a message to the rest of the nation that Arizona is here to stay.
The junior guard, who’s averaged 24.2 points per game this year, said the still-unranked Wildcats are floored by those who overlook their recent success.
“I think that Texas felt they were going to beat us, and I feel like they took us lightly and we came out, we followed the game plan,” McDonald said. “Everybody had their best game that I’ve seen so far. We just play together, stay together and we stuck with the game plan.”
McDonald and her coach both gave credence to the sizeable chip on their shoulders, saying the lack of respect nationally has allowed the team to come together to fight for recognition on and off the court. One example is the Associated Press’ weekly national poll.
“I feel like people don’t really count us in that kind of stuff,” McDonald said. “That just gives us motivation. We’re not worried about that. We’re just going to keep playing our game and people at some time are going to put respect on our name.”
Much of that respect will have to be earned during the 18-game gauntlet that is the team’s Pac-12 conference slate.
The Pac-12 conference currently has three teams in the AP top-10: Oregon (1), Stanford (3) and Oregon State (7). UCLA comes in at 11.
A former Arizona and WNBA star who knows how important it is for the team to continue its ascendance over the next few weeks ahead of their conference opener against rival ASU on Sunday, Dec. 29, Barnes said she’s not too concerned with rankings right now.
“I think it doesn’t matter how you’re ranked in the beginning, it matters where you are at the end,” she said. “Did I think we were going to be ranked? I did. But we have a lot to prove and we know we’re not where we need to be. We know we can beat some really good teams, so we’re just taking it one day at a time.”
The Wildcats will certainly have a great shot at boosting their postseason resume once Pac-12 play begins, playing longtime powers ASU, UCLA, USC, Oregon State and Oregon in its first five conference contests.
McDonald is confident that this year’s team is much more prepared for the grind of conference play than last year’s squad, which finished 7-11 in Pac-12 play.
“In practice I’ve seen we’re that much better than they were last year around this time,” she said. “Everybody’s bought in, everyone’s competitive. Everyone wants to win and have a better season than we did last year.”