UA women's basketball

“If we keep working hard and getting better as a unit, we will surprise people,” Adia Barnes said of the future of UA’s women’s basketball team.

Rick Wiley / Arizona Daily Star

One word — inconsistent — seems to sum up the UA women’s basketball team’s nonconference performance this season.

There were ups (a double-overtime win against Southern Utah) and downs (a six-game losing streak).

There were moments of clarity, when the Wildcats played solidly on both ends of the court. Then there were the stretches of futility, like the last six minutes against Hawaii, when the UA scored just two points and surrendered a sure win.

The UA beat New Mexico State by 39 points — and trailed a winless Long Beach State team by 18 points at halftime.

The Wildcats won their first road game of the season in Logan, Utah. Days later, they trailed Loyola Marymount by 14 points after just a quarter.

Adia Barnes warned this might happen. The Wildcats’ second-year coach is dealing with a short bench and a young team. Things aren’t likely to get any easier Friday, when Arizona (4-7) opens up Pac-12 play at Utah. The mountain trip, which includes a Sunday game at Colorado, will be followed by a weekend homestand against Cal and Stanford.

The Star talked to Barnes about what the uneven conference season means, and how the Wildcats can improve .

Was there anything unexpected during nonconference play?

A: “I don’t think anything was unexpected. We knew we had a young team and there would be ups and downs and a learning curve. It’s all part of the process. What I couldn’t have predicted was that we wouldn’t have another post player, so (junior forward) Destiny (Graham) has had to play the 5.

“I am optimistic. Our players are all great kids, they work hard and are trying to get better. It’s all about the process. We improve every week, every game and are getting more experienced for the future. If we keep working hard and getting better as a unit, we will surprise people.”

What did you learn in Year 1 that will help you in your second Pac-12 season?

A: “I learned to stick to what you do; stick to the process. When you are building a championship culture, the process is important. It was hard to lose last year, especially coming from a Final Four (Washington) team with Kelsey Plum and Chantel Osahor.

“What people forget is that we had five seniors on last year’s team. People warned me that the second year is the hardest. It is; you are starting over. Last year I was teaching my style, but the seniors had that game experience that is so valuable. Now, we’re so young that everything is new. Every day is a learning experience, which is great, actually.”

Many of your players have had moments of great play, who has surprised you the most?

A: “(Point guard) Lucia (Alonso) has improved so much over last year, from her body to how she reads the defense. And Sam (Thomas) has continued to improve. We were talking about inconsistency as a theme, but Sam is not. She is consistently contributing in some way. I’m impressed with her; she continues to do the little things.”

Stanford is not ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in 17 years. What do you think is going on?

A: “That is surprising, but the thing about Tara (VanDerveer) is she always finds a way to win and they will be successful in the Pac-12. They will be great; they are always great. She has great players and they play together.”

The Pac-12 has four teams ranked in the AP Top 25 with Oregon at No. 10, with sophomores Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard, and they have a standout freshman in Satou Sabally; No. 11 UCLA has seniors Jordin Canada and Monique Billings; Oregon State is at 17 and Cal is at 20. How good do you think the Pac-12 will be this year?

A: “Everyone is good. Washington State’s record doesn’t show it (7-5), but they are good. Utah and Colorado have improved. I think seven teams will make postseason play. The league is so competitive. That’s why it is the best in the country.”