By the numbers: Arizona’s special run to face UConn in the Final Four
In her final collegiate game, Adia Barnes and the Arizona Wildcats fell to the UConn Huskies in the Sweet 16 back in 1998.
At the time, Barnes had the Wildcats on their deepest run in school history. After that trip to the Sweet 16, the Wildcats never got past the second round of the tournament. Now as head coach, Barnes and the Wildcats will face freshman sensation and 2021 AP Player of the Year Paige Bueckers and the 28-1 Huskies on Friday, this time in the Final Four.
The game tips at 6:30 p.m. MST on ESPN.
Here’s a look at the numbers from the Wildcats historic run.
The Wildcats had not qualified for the tournament in 16 years and are the first team in NCAA history to make the Final Four after not qualifying for the tournament in 10 or more years. The Wildcats are a three seed, which ties the highest tournament seed in program history. The Wildcats have earned a three seed once before, during their run to the Sweet 16 in 1998.
Arizona senior guard Aari McDonald scored 31 points in the Sweet 16 against Texas A&M and 33 against Indiana in the Elite Eight, becoming the first player since 2007 to score 30-plus points in those two rounds. Her performances in the last two games helped propel the Wildcats to 15- and 13-point victories in their last two games. She is the first player since Ole Miss’ Armintie Herrington (2007) to score 30 or more in both of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.
Led by forward Sam Thomas who had 31 blocks on the year and 11 games with two or more, the Wildcats were one of the best rim protecting teams in the nation. Stanford was the only team in the Pac-12 that compiled more blocks (179) throughout the season than the Wildcats.
McDonald has scored in double figures in 91 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation. She was also named the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Co-Defensive Player of the Year alongside Stanford’s Anna Wilson.
Allowing 55.2 points per game, the Wildcats are the nation’s 13th-best team in terms of scoring defense. They have only allowed 50.2 points per game in the tournament.
Barnes, 44, is the youngest coach to reach the Final Four since Maryland’s Brenda Frese in 2014. Frese is also a former Arizona player (1989-1992).
In the Pac-12, the Wildcats forced the most turnovers per game (17.88). Of all the teams who have reached the Final Four, only UConn has forced more on average (17.97). McDonald led the Pac-12 in steals, compiling 67 throughout the year and averaging 2.7 per game. Thomas recorded 59 steals and averaged 2.4 per game, both of which are good for the second-best ranks in the Pac-12.
Prior to the start of the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats were ranked at 11, their highest rank since the 1998 season when they finished the year ranked ninth. Since the 1998 season, the Wildcats have only finished the year in the top 25 three times and up until this year had not finished the year ranked since 2003 when they finished ranked 22.
Tied with Stanford, the Wildcats had three players earn all Pac-12 honors. McDonald, Thomas and Cat Reese were named All-Pac-12, while Trinity Baptiste received an honorable mention.
Barnes and McDonald led the Wildcats to a second-place finish in the Pac-12 and go into Friday’s matchup with Huskies with a record of 20-5, their best record since the 2004 season.
South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and Barnes will make history on Friday. For the first time in women’s tournament history, there will be two Black head coaches in the Final Four.