The Arizona women’s basketball team took a little time Sunday night to savor victory and celebrate its five seniors.
Then, it was off to a dinner with family and nearly 100 fans.
By Monday, the Wildcats were already focused on what’s next: Thursday’s rematch with Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament in Seattle.
Oregon (18-12, 8-10, Pac-12) is seeded sixth, while Arizona (14-15, 5-13) is No. 11.
Focusing on what’s next has been the Wildcats’ approach all season. There’s no reason to change now.
“We’ve never looked ahead all season,” first-year coach Adia Barnes said. “It’s one game at a time. We’re not changing anything; otherwise, there’s a lot of pressure on the players. They need consistency and to feel like they can go out and play.”
The Wildcats head into this matchup against the Ducks hoping to avenge last month’s 79-65 loss. The Cats “weren’t as aggressive as we play now” in that game, Barnes said.
“It all starts with our defense and execution of our game plan,” she said. “Collectively, we’ve come together (since we played them) and want to win. The seniors want to continue to play and are excited to play right now.”
Oregon is looking for some payback of its own. The Ducks have lost eight consecutive Pac-12 tournament games, including last year’s first-round matchup with Arizona. Oregon is on the bubble for an NCAA tournament bid.
Coach Kelly Graves said the Ducks view the tournament as “a fresh start.”
“We have something to play for,” she said. “It’s difficult to get four wins in four days, but why not?”
The Wildcats’ postseason hopes were dashed when they came up short finishing the season with a .500 record. The only way to qualify now is to make a run to the conference tournament championship. Arizona has won three of its last five games, more than doubling its Pac-12 win total during that span.
“We have the momentum coming into the Pac-12 tourney,” said senior Dejza James, who scored a season-high 18 points in the UA’s first matchup against Oregon. “In our first game against them, LaBrittney (Jones) and Malena (Washington) didn’t have good games. If we can get them going and work on starting off the game right … we can win.”
Last time out against the Ducks, the Wildcats started slow and trailed 38-25 by halftime. Oregon forward Ruthy Hebard finished with 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds.
She isn’t the only player the Wildcats have to keep in check. Count teammate freshman guard Sabrina Ionescu as another threat — she was named both the Pac-12’s freshman of the week and player of the week on Feb. 13 after posting her fourth career triple-double. She is only the second Pac-12 freshman to sweep both weekly awards.
Despite Oregon’s young firepower — its rotation includes five freshmen — the Wildcats are confident this week.
“You have to come ready to play,” said Jones. “No one expects a lot from us — no one. So they can let down and then anything can happen.”
By collecting the victory over USC on Sunday, the Wildcats accomplished something they haven’t done since the league expanded to 12 teams — win five games. It also pulled them out of last place.
“This morning, my dad sent me a text with the standings and the bracket (for the Pac-12 tourney) and said, ‘Look at this!’ ” said senior Lauren Evans, who scored a big basket to secure the win against Arizona State last month. “It’s awesome.”
- Jones collected two awards from the Pac-12 Tuesday: honorable mention All-Pac-12 and All-Defense team. She is averaging 15.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game.
- Both Ionescu and Hebard were named to the All-Pac 12 team.