2016 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Media Day: Adia Barnes returns to put Arizona women's basketball back on the map
SAN FRANCISCO – The beginning of Arizona women’s basketball’s success in the 1990’s and early 2000’s can be linked back to Adia Barnes, who came to Tucson as a freshman in 1994 and led the Wildcats to their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance her junior year. By the time she moved on to the WNBA, she was the program’s all-time leading scorer (and still is) and the Wildcats had appeared in a Sweet 16, with NCAA tournament appearances to follow in five of the next seven years.
But Arizona has fallen on hard times as of late, having not made the tournament since 2005 and coming off their fifth consecutive losing season, leading to the firing of former head coach Niya Butts, a coach who was loved by just about everybody around the conference but couldn’t get enough wins to stay in town.
For Barnes, the timing was perfect – as an assistant at Washington, she helped lead the Dawgs to the Final Four in 2016. With the opening in Tucson, Barnes became far and away the ideal candidate.
One of the best players in program history has come back to “save the day,” so to speak, and Barnes takes great pride in having the chance to be the one to return the Wildcats to national prominence.
“It’s a really special place… I think it also comes with more pressure. I’m always ready for the challenge,” Barnes said at 2016 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day. “It’s where it all started for me, so there’s a lot of sentimental value there.”
Considering their recent struggles, the Wildcats were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 this season. However, Washington head coach Mike Neighbors, her good friend and former boss, thinks Barnes will be able to turn it around in Tucson.
“100 percent confidence she’ll do it. She’s one of my most trusted friends,” Neighbors said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take – it could be this year – but there’s no question in my mind that she has everything she needs to start to catch people.”
First on her long to-do list is creating a culture, one that she hopes leads to a blue-collar identity on the court, with a little edge splashed in.
“Our style is going to be identifiable. I like that chip and I honestly don’t mind being the underdog,” Barnes said.
So far, that mentality has been established on the practice court and weight room, according to senior guard Malena Washington.
“She wants us to go out there and play our hardest,” Washington said. “It’s just coming out every practice and in the weight room, playing hard and lifting each other up.”
It’s going to be a very tough road to plow in a Pac-12 Conference that sent two teams to the Final Four in 2016, but Barnes is up for the challenge.
“It’s my job to give them my best, and then everything falls into place,” Barnes said. “I’m just really excited for this year.”