Madi Conner is in a hurry.
Less than a month ago, she was a high school student playing at AZ Compass Prep in Chandler.
Now, she’s on Arizona’s roster.
Conner plans to contribute, whether it’s as a shooter or simply by fitting in on one of the top 10 teams in the nation. She’ll be on the bench Friday when the 10th-ranked Wildcats (12-2, 10-2 Pac-12) host Washington State (9-7, 7-7 Pac-12) in their final home weekend series of the season. Arizona is looking to avenge a 71-69 overtime loss from 34 days ago.
“Madi has adjusted pretty quickly actually,” senior forward Trinity Baptiste said. “Madi is playing like she’s been here all year in practice and scrimmages. She’s very comfortable, can score the ball — (she’s) adjusted very fast. It doesn’t seem like she’s just now coming out of a high school. It seems like she’s been here. I’m super-excited about how good she can really be. I’m happy for her. She’s doing really well so far.”
Conner, a 5-foot-11-inch guard, enrolled early to get started on her college career. This semester won’t count toward Conner’s eligibility because of an NCAA rule designed to reward players who compete during the pandemic.
Conner said the move from high school to college “was kind of unreal — it didn’t register with me because it all happened like in a week.”
Conner is focused on getting up to speed with the playbook and the pace of the Wildcats system so she’s ready when she gets the call to check into a game. She has yet to see the floor.
“I just felt like I should be there and had to get into routines,” she said. “I really didn’t have time to think about it. I just had to do it and jump into the fire. … I feel if like the opportunity is brought to me, I’m going to rise to the occasion and I’ll figure it out.”
Conner spends her time on the bench during games studying how her teammates “react to things, how they read the defense.”
Senior Sam Thomas said Conner is picking up the Wildcats’ offense and defense a lot faster than they expected.
UA coach Adia Barnes says Conner could help the Wildcats over the final month of the season and into the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments.
“Madi is like a sponge; she soaks everything in,” Barnes said. “She’s a tremendous shooter. She has personality. She’s not afraid — she’s not intimidated by anything. She just goes out and does it. I love coaching that. I think she’s going to have a chance to help us some down the stretch.”
Conner’s college debut would ideally be a stress-free one, like at the end of a runaway win.
“Maybe I would tell her, ‘Hey, these are the three plays we’re going to work on in practice that week and then when you get in the game, these are the three plays were going to play,’” Barnes said. “She’s not trying to worry about 10 plays, and then ease into it, but I think she’ll help us.”
In her month as a Wildcat, Conner has experienced a lot. She has watched from the sidelines as the UA has won four straight games. Monday night, the Wildcats beat Oregon by 20 points in a game shown nationally on ESPN2.
“That was awesome,” Conner said. “The energy on the bench, great energy. Obviously, there weren’t fans, so it didn’t feel like an actual ESPN game. But obviously, the energy was super-high. Everybody was super-pumped and excited to play.”
Conner has also faced some adversity. The Wildcats missed three games after someone within the program tested positive for COVID-19. And her first road trip seemed even longer after Oregon State postponed last Friday’s game because of COVID-19 issues within its own program.
Yet she’s taken it all in stride.
“I don’t think anything fazes that girl,” Thomas said. “She said she knew short notice that she was coming here. She packed everything up and came here. She’s done a great job bonding with everyone — she’s fitting in nicely. She’s thrown on a road trip — her first road trip this past weekend, game gets canceled on the fly. That’s never happened to anyone — a freshman or a high schooler or whatever. That’s probably like some big scary news, she takes it right like nothing really fazes her. It’s great to have someone like that.”
• Arizona has added Gisela Sanchez from Spain to its 2021 recruiting class. Sanchez is a 6-foot-3 inch forward who played on the same club — Segle XXI — as current Cats Helena Pueyo and Marta Garcia. She played on Spain’s U16 team in 2018 FIBA’s Women’s European Championship, averaging 6.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. According to Blue Star media, she runs the floor well, can score from long range, rebounds and finishes in transition.
- Arizona has missed five games, and it’s unlikely the Wildcats will make up all of them. Washington could have stayed in Tucson after Sunday to make up their postponed game from earlier this season, but “they don’t want to do that,” Barnes said.
Reporter Michelle Smith wrote Thursday that the league coaches agreed that postponed games do not need to be rescheduled, especially while teams — like Cal — struggled to field a healthy team. The Pac-12 will not force teams to play.
- Arizona enters Friday’s game in second place in the Pac-12 standings, behind No. 5 Stanford. Without making up a number of those games, the Wildcats’ chances of winning the league shrink.
Barnes’ message to her team this week, included this: “Obviously, our goal is to try to win out. We’re taking one game at a time, but we want to win the games we can play. I said they need to play every game like it’s their last game. Because we saw what just happened. We don’t know how many games we’re going to have. … We’re blessed to be playing. Every game, it’s like your last game and they have to cherish that and not take it for granted. But to be great, you’re able to do those things. You’re able to maintain focus, you’re able to do the job you’re supposed to do. And we’re not there yet. We’re getting there. We’re getting better. But we’re learning what that’s like. This is new, uncharted territory for us.”