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University of Arizona Wildcats women's basketball head coach Adia Barnes

OK, it’s 11 a.m. on a weekday morning. Most decent people are working. Spring Break is over and some politicians have declared that the pandemic is no longer a thing, so kids can be back at school. But a few of us lucky ones get to be at home, watching the University of Arizona women’s basketball team play their first game in the NCAA Tournament.

I’ve got my laptop in front of me, with the TV a little bit off to the side. Giant mug of Diet Pepsi and a bowl of microwave popcorn. I eat the plain kind of popcorn, so it kinda tastes like sawdust. I’ve never tried the “butter” flavor; I’m afraid that it will taste like feet (not that I actually know what feet taste like).

It’s been almost two decades since the UA women made it to the NCAAs. They certainly would have been in it last year, but the pandemic canceled everything. While I believe that the NCAA acted quite responsibly in most things last year, I think that they made a big mistake in not announcing the brackets for the men’s and women’s tournaments. It would have given fans something to chew on and given the players the satisfaction of knowing that they would have been in the tourney were it not for the coronavirus.

11:02 a.m.: I’m a little bit nervous. In yesterday’s first-round games, it went chalk, meaning that every higher-seeded team won its game. This absolutely never happens in the men’s tournament and it’s rare for the women’s games, as well. When every favored team is winning, you definitely don’t want to be the first one to lose because then you get all that extra attention.

11:05: UA Coach Adia Barnes is wearing a shirt that says “Built Different.” Why would a college team wear something that’s grammatically ambiguous?

The UA extended Barnes’ contract through the 2025-26 season, eliciting a community-wide sigh of relief that would register on the Beaufort Scale. At the end of 2018-19, the Wildcats made their completely unexpected six-game run to win the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, drawing ever-larger crowds to McKale with each win, culminating in a sellout in the title game. Ever since then, Barnes’ name has been on just about every mythical Short List of Candidates whenever a coveted coaching position opens up.

Barnes got a substantial raise after the WNIT win, but now she’s got something that’s probably even more important—job security for the next five years. With a young son and a newborn daughter, a husband on her coaching staff, a rabid (and growing) fan base, great facilities, and all the rest that Tucson can offer, it seems reasonable that Barnes will stick around and continue building her program into a perennial contender for the national title.

It’s been almost four decades since Lute Olson transformed the desert into a men’s basketball mecca that’s known worldwide. As the legacy that Olson left behind continues to fray and wither, Adia Barnes is doing all she can to keep the term “Arizona basketball” synonymous with excellence.

11:07 a.m.: They started the UA game a bit late because the Rutgers-BYU game was going down to the wire. BYU has a player named Paisley Harding. Who does that to a kid?

11:09 a.m.: The Cats are playing Stony Brook in the first round. Stony Brook sounds like it’s a rehab facility or one of those places where Jada Pinkett Smith goes to lose those last five pounds before starting her next project. I googled it and found that it’s out on Long Island. The Google map says that it’s a “research school with wooded campus.” Okay…

11:10 a.m.: Stony Brook scores first. Now I’m extra nervous.

11:17 a.m.: Not so nervous anymore. Arizona is up 17-6. All-American guard Aari McDonald already has seven points and a million steals. I think “Aari” is French for “diminutive pest.”

Cate Reese is playing really well, scoring inside and rebounding. Reese was Barnes’ first big recruiting prize. A McDonald’s All-American, Reese is the second-leading scorer and rebounder on the team. She’s also No. 1 on the team in facial expressions. Judging by her combination grimace of shock and exasperation, she has never committed a foul in her entire basketball career.

11:41 a.m.: It’s 46-13. The players from Stony Brook all have that look on their faces as though they are trapped in a Michael Bay movie. Lights and noise and it’s all so incomprehensible.

12:55 p.m.: Final score, 79-44. Coach Barnes was able to empty her bench in the fourth quarter, giving some of her players the opportunity to play in the NCAAs. Good for them. Next up: Paisley and Company. It turns out BYU provided the tournament’s first upset, beating Rutgers. Let’s hope that’s the only upset the Cougars had in them.  

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