Losing is never easy.
No matter if it comes a month into the season, in February or especially in March. It’s always hard.
Arizona suffered its first loss of the season on Thursday night, falling 77-50 to Kansas in McKale Center.
In the light of the day, the loss looks … well, still bad.
The 12th-ranked Wildcats, now 7-1, gave up 77 points at home with most of them coming in the paint. Kansas only made three 3-pointers.
The Wildcats weren’t playing the swarming defense they have become known for. Instead, it was Kansas that was doing the disrupting.
Offensively, Arizona was stagnant. Only two players finished in double figures: Cate Reese (14) and Jade Loville (13). Most of Reese’s points came in the first half, when the game was within reach.
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Arizona coach Adia Barnes has been saying for weeks that she saw things that just weren’t clicking, despite winning and averaging a 31-point scoring margin.
At some point, she expected that a game like Thursday’s was going to happen.
“I’m not worried about the loss,” Barnes said. “I’m worried about the in the fashion that we lost … I can live with losing. I really can. This is basketball we’re going to lose games. But (it’s) the hustle and the mentality and the huddling and the communication — the control over things I can’t live with not doing. I’m going to find a way to extract those things. We’re going to do them. …
“We emphasize these things in practice every single day. It looks like we don’t and that’s the thing. I take accountability. I look at this stat sheet, I am totally accountable. I’m accountable for us not boxing out. I’m accountable for us not being able to hit shots. I take responsibility so I’m going to find a way to get us better. And we’re not going to have games like especially in McKale.”
It wasn’t the zone
Kansas made it difficult for ball movement, and Taiyanna Jackson’s presence altered shots.
While it looked like Kansas was playing zone defense, which has given UA difficulty in the past, Barnes said it was “sagging man.”
The Wildcats faced a similar defense in their second-round NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina.
“We just got on our heels, got manhandled inside, got our post players a little bit of foul trouble so played a little smaller,” Barnes said. “We’re getting killed on the board and then they didn’t zone us up. They just heavy helped off players. It felt like a zone, looked like a zone and we just could not move the ball. You need to really move the ball and get them on the backside or with movement off the baseline drives. Not hold the ball from up top.”
Lauren Ware’s season-ending patella surgery was a significant loss for the Wildcats.
Barnes has called Ware the Wildcats’ best post defender. Her 6-foot-5-inch frame would have definitely helped battle the 6-6 Jackson on Thursday. Jackson finished with 19 points, 15 rebounds.
Ware’s talking is missed just as much as her presence.
“Lauren Ware is by far, hands down, by far … like eons better, our best communicator,” Barnes said. “… With the way we play we are really missing her. Someone’s got to step up.”
Barnes calls communicating on defense a “controllable” that doesn’t take “talent. That doesn’t take efficiency on offense. That takes you to move your mouth and talk.”
“You’ve got to communicate … You have to communicate when you’re switching. You have to communicate if you’re in help side. You have to talk,” Barnes said.
Love the hard stuff
Arizona lacked a spark when they got down by double digits in the second half.
Barnes said it’s “a focus” and “a mentality” and the Wildcats just don’t have it right now. She expects them to have it as the season progressing as they always get better as the year goes on.
“It’s a pride thing. We have to get up and level up when things are hard,” Barnes said. “I told our team ‘love the hard stuff.’ It’s easy when it’s 70 outside and sunny and you are scoring and hitting, but what are you going to do when your backs against the wall and things are hard? You buck up, you level up or you lay down and die. We’re not going to be a team that lays down and dies — not (one) that I’m going to coach.
“We’re going to get tougher, mentally, and we’re going to find ways. I can sit here and live with missing shots, not playing a great game, but we’re going to have fight. We’re not going to get outhustled for loose balls continuously the whole game. Those are things I’m not going to live with. We’ll fix that. We’ll look at it on film and learn from it. Probably this loss is a good thing for us because we have not arrived.”
Barnes was happy that WNBA star Brittney Griner was released from Russia and headed back to the United States. “I think it’s about time. I think she was over there way too long,” she said. “And just really happy. Happy that President (Joe) Biden found a way. Really happy that the WNBA and everybody advocated for her and made some noise about her.”
Maya Nnaji played more than 20 minutes and Barnes said she “gave us a good presence. She was being really physical. I think she stepped up as Esmery (Martinez) and Cate (Reese) were in a little bit of foul trouble.” Nnaji pulled down four rebounds – three on the offensive side – scored two points and added a steal.
Madi Conner, who is being asked to play multiple positions, blocked two shots, pulled down three rebounds and scored two points in nearly 15 minutes of action.
There’s one more UA-Kansas connection. Arizona assistant coach Salvo Coppa met former Kansas standout Lynette Woodard when he was 10 years old. She played for Coppa’s father’s team that won the Italian championship. Woodard was the first Jayhawk to have her jersey retired. The Hall of Famer was the first woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.Coppa and Woodard keep in touch; they saw each other at the Final Four a few years ago.
Contact sports reporter PJ Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @PJBrown09