Following Friday night’s game against Northern Arizona, the Arizona Wildcats will scatter for the Christmas holiday. Most players will return to their hometowns. Coach Adia Barnes and her family will head to San Diego for a few days, where she will give the holiday a full-court press before turning her attention to Arizona’s Dec. 30 conference opener against ASU.
Before the airports and car rides and presents and cookies, however, there’s a game to be played. And the timing of it has the Wildcats’ coach concerned.
The UA needed two overtimes to win last year’s final game before Christmas, a 76-74 victory over Southern Utah. Arizona beat Utah State 61-57 in a similar game two years ago.
“This is one of the hardest games. It’s always like this,” Barnes told reporters as she prepared for Friday night’s showdown with Northern Arizona at McKale Center.
“You want to play well heading into the break. … We want to play well before Christmas.”
Motivation should come easy. The Wildcats are in the middle of their longest winning streak since the 2003-04 season, and are off to their best start at 9-1 since the 2011-12 season. Northern Arizona, meanwhile, enters Friday on a three-game losing skid.
The Wildcats are led by guard Aari McDonald, whose 24.6 points per game rank third nationally. According to the UA’s media relations department, McDonald is the only player in the country to average 20 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals per game.
The Washington transfer is the first player in UA history to score at least 15 points in the first 10 games of a season.
Friday night’s game will mark the 127th birthday of basketball, which was founded by Dr. James Naismith on Dec. 21, 1891. His great-granddaughter, Margaret Naismith Jonker, will be in attendance, as will Tucson mayor Jonathan Rothschild.
The first 500 fans in attendance will receive a commemorative poster.
Barnes is hopeful that the birthday party will keep the Wildcats from looking too far ahead to a four-day holiday break.
“But the good thing is,” she said, “NAU will have the same challenges.”