The Arizona women’s basketball team entered Sunday’s afternoon game at McKale Center against No. 6 Stanford wanting to pull another upset. After all, they took down then-ranked No. 17 Arizona State before 2018 ended and No. 24 California on Friday.
But Stanford is just too good — both on offense and defense — and routed Arizona 78-48.
If anything, Sunday’s loss served as a reminder: The Wildcats are still in a rebuilding season.
“We haven’t arrived,” coach Adia Barnes said. “We’ve gotten better. Yes, we’re now 3-2 in the Pac-12, but we’re not ready to be a Pac-12 champion yet. But we’re ready to be better and make steps.”
“We’re not ready to be undefeated at home. We will be, but we just saw what it’s like against No. 6.”
The Cardinal got off to a quick start, scoring five points before Arizona could even get situated on the court. After a few scoreless minutes, Sam Thomas downed a three-pointer from the wing to get the Wildcats’ scoring started, but Arizona would continue to struggle.
Aari McDonald, who’s averaging 26 points per game as the nation’s leading scorer, missed four three-point attempts in the first quarter. McDonald was held to 17 points on 6-of-22 shooting, a vast change from the last three consecutive 30-point games.
“I think they just made her work really hard,” Barnes said. “They had three people in the paint. They forced her to shoot, a lot of times, into (Stanford’s) Alanna Smith’s hands. They weren’t really letting her go around. … I think they defended us really well. They made Aari really work and take tough shots.”
Still, the Wildcats continued chugging, and Dominique McBryde got a crucial block as time expired in the first quarter to keep the damage to 21-12.
However, the second quarter wasn’t kind to the Wildcats, who shot less than 17 percent and could score only four points. The Cardinal extended their lead to 44-16 by the half — thanks to a 24-0 run powered by 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.
The Cardinal extended its run to 27-0 at the start of the second half.
The Wildcats eventually got more aggressive with the ball and even won the fourth quarter, outscoring Stanford 21-16, but it was too late to mount a comeback.
It also didn’t help that Arizona was playing without Tee Tee Starks, who suffered a head injury during Friday’s game. While Starks wasn’t diagnosed with a concussion, Barnes said the forward was still dealing with headaches and would be resting the next few days.
But the loss of one player provided an opportunity for others.
Barnes gave minutes to players on the bench, like Bryce Nixon and Lindsey Malecha — neither of who played against California. Freshman Semaj Smith played 12 minutes.
The third-year coach knows freshmen will make mistakes, but she hopes playing against teams like Stanford will help them improve .
“I’m learning every day,” Nixon said. “I’m learning at practices (and) watching film. My teammates teach me things all the time. Every game, when I get to play, I’m just learning and learning. And I’ve been putting a lot of work on the side, so I’m hoping that that will pay off soon.”
The Wildcats are now halfway through a stretch of playing four straight ranked opponents. While Sunday’s rout hurt Barnes a bit, she’s not too fazed. After all, it was against Stanford — which will likely make a run at the national championship.
Arizona will play at No. 10 Oregon State on Friday and at No. 5 Oregon on Sunday.
“This is a tough league. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low,” Barnes said. “We played a great game Friday; we played like crap today. So, what do you do? We need to get better and I think there’s some adjustments I have to make as a coach and do some different things. It is what it is.”