Destiny Graham thought she had seen it all as an Arizona Wildcat.
As the lone four-year senior, Graham has endured three losing seasons, a head coaching change and a new assistant coach. She’s played nearly every position on the court, started for two years and came off the bench for the other two.
This year, she’s experienced what it’s like to win a lot of games and play deep into March. On Thursday night she checked two more boxes: play and win a postseason game.
Graham and her Arizona teammates hope that trend continues Sunday when UA (19-13) hosts Pacific (19-12) in the second round of the WNIT. The game at McKale Center tips off at 3 p.m.
“Coach Adia (Barnes) is always talking about leaving your legacy, and I think that’s what I am doing here,” said Graham. “The first (postseason win) in 14 years (for the program), the first time for me being here, it’s really great. I am happy that I am here. I am happy with my teammates and myself and just how we’re turning the whole program around.”
Graham’s goal is to become a coach, and she is attending the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s “So You Want to be a Coach” program in Tampa Bay next month. She has helped freshmen Semaj Smith and Bryce Nixon learn plays, get in position, and read the defense. Graham doles out plenty of wisdom.
When the Wildcats played in the Bay Area this season, Graham stepped up with fiery pregame speeches.
“There are always words of wisdom — every day. I try to talk to them and help them with their IQ and how they can score,” said Graham. “Bryce is a shooter and I’m not a shooter like her, but I try to help her with her confidence. Like, ‘Bryce, you are open you can shoot that,’ or ‘Bryce, if they do that, drive.’
“I think they really stepped up and showed that (Thursday night). ... Hopefully it will keep their confidence up and momentum going as we continue to play.”
Another side of Graham has emerged over the last half of the season. Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu got in Graham’s face in a game during UA’s last homestand of the Pac-12 season.
Graham didn’t back down, and eventually both players were called for a foul.
There was a similar situation earlier in the season against Utah, when Graham was pushed to the ground before confronting an opposing player. Teammates had to hold Graham back. She is playing with an aggression and fire that has surprised everyone, even herself.
“I want to do it for my teammates. I think showing my team that I have their back, because I know they have mine,” said Graham. “I can’t really tell you where it came from, it was just a switch or something hit off. I think it was in me all along and I think I just needed the right time and the right moment. I think also because we are winning it helps and makes me want to pull out the fight even more so we can keep winning and keep going.”
How have her teammates and coaches reacted to this shift in attitude? Her teammates get pumped. Her coaches laugh and have given her a few nicknames.
“They call me Destinay, D-nasty, Cali-Des, or DC-Des — because my dad is in Washington, D.C., right now. Those are like my different personas they like to call me sometimes,” she said.
While the Wildcats are focused on playing Pacific, it can be hard at times not to look ahead. But Barnes knows what to say to keep her players’ eyes on what’s directly in front of them.
“It’s Coach Adia’s speeches when she says ‘one game at time,’ ‘one possession at a time,’ because I think at a time like this it can get in your head that … ‘ok, what’s next, what do we do next, who are we playing next?’” said Graham. “Not thinking two games ahead or three games ahead. Thinking about the now, that’s the most important thing.”
Hitting free throws
The Wildcats have found their stroke again at the free-throw line. Cate Reese (8 of 8) and Graham (10 of 10) were both perfect from the line in Arizona’s first-round win against Idaho State. The team shot 81.3 percent overall.
What helped the Wildcats turn the corner? Reps.
“I think just in the back of our mind, games we could’ve won if we would’ve been better at our free throws,” said Reese. “Every practice Coach Adia emphasizes free throws at the beginning of practice and the end of practice. So I think that really helped us out.”
It’s in the numbers
In Thursday’s game, UA scored 24 points on Idaho State turnovers. The Bengals forced 16 Arizona turnovers and only capitalized with seven points.
UA’s bench came up with 13 points while Idaho State’s scored only six.
Another challenge and more free tickets
Barnes challenged the community again to hit the 5,000 mark in attendance for Sunday’s game. UA fell short Thursday night with 3,265 fans.
The last time Barnes’ team saw more than 5,000 people at McKale Center was against ASU on Dec. 30.
UA averaged more than 2,200 fans per game this season.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, UA had sold 2,000 tickets.
To help reach the goal, UA football coach Kevin Sumlin and UA athletic director Dave Heeke again bought 50 tickets apiece to give to students.
An anonymous donor purchased 200 more tickets for students.