For most of the season, Arizona women’s basketball far exceeded expectations. Just after the horn sounded at the end of the 2021 National Championship Game, ESPN dropped the National Finalists off its list “way too early in the top 25”. When the Associated Press published its preseason Top 25 in November, the Wildcats were ranked 22nd.
Arizona seemed to take it personally. The team came out and beat No. 6 Louisville in week one and went on to earn 11 wins before suffering their first loss of the season. The Wildcats rose to 4th in the AP poll during the season.
Then came the calm. The loss to USC at the Galen Center. Yes, it was without two starters, but the problem was rather that the team did not play together. This problem has appeared several times in games that have either ended up in the L column or too close for comfort.
After the loss to UCLA on Feb. 24, the senior guard Bendu Yeaney met the media. She expressed her frustration with the players on the team still not knowing the games.
“We have one game left and half our team don’t know the plays,” Yeaney said. “So it’s a bit difficult to direct the attack, but you don’t know the plays.”
The team has also had some unexplained absences lately. Senior Semaj Smith did not travel to Washington and Washington State with the team for undisclosed reasons. Thursday, juniors Taylor Chavez was at the game, but she sat on the bench in a sweat for unknown reasons.
“Taylor, we decided to stay out today and she’ll be ready for the next game,” Barnes said. “And it was my decision and Taylor’s decision. It was not a medical decision.
Now Arizona finds itself in a precarious position when it comes to its playoff hopes. The Wildcats had their chance to move up to third in the Pac-12 standings with a win over UCLA on Thursday. Instead, they’ve been outplayed by the Bruins and remain in fourth place.
Staying fourth would be tough enough. The No. 4 seed must face Stanford in the Pac-12 semifinals if it goes that far. More concerning is the possibility that Arizona could fall to fifth and lose the bye in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament next week. Losing the bye means the Wildcats would need to win four games in five days to claim the Pac-12 tournament title.
The Wildcats are half a game behind Washington State and Oregon in the standings after losing to UCLA on Friday. Arizona played one fewer game in the Pac-12 as neither its home game against Washington nor its road game against California were postponed. Both of these teams have two wins in the Pac-12, so they likely would have added two more wins to Arizona’s conference record.
As it stands, the Wildcats are 9-6 in the conference. That gives them a winning percentage of 60. WSU and Oregon both have 10-6 records, giving them winning percentages of 62.5.
If Arizona had beaten both Cal and UW, it would have a 64.7 winning percentage. With these games off the table, the Wildcats are not only trying to catch the teams in front of them, but they are also trying to keep Utah from catching them from behind.
If Arizona loses to USC, their winning percentage would drop to 56.25. Utah can move to 60 with a win over Oregon. While Colorado can match Arizona’s winning percentage with a win over Oregon State and an Arizona loss to USC, it would still trail the Wildcats as Arizona won the only head-to-head matchup this season.
Another issue for the Wildcats is what kind of impression all of this would leave on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. A loss to USC would give Arizona a 5-5 record in its final 10 regular season games, including three straight losses to end it. Without guarantee that Catherine Reese return, the committee could decide that this is the team the Wildcats are now and seed them accordingly.
“Honestly, I didn’t think about it,” Barnes said. “I haven’t thought about it because I feel like you have to show up, because in my opinion, if we don’t play with confidence this week, it’s going to be very hard to play well in the Pac 12 tournament and very difficult to have momentum for the NCAA. But for the NCAA it’s different. We have more time to practice and recover it, and just time. But I think for us, psychologically , not even for the committee – I don’t even think about that stuff because I can’t control it – we just have to do our best and we have to improve now.
Whether or not Barnes thinks about the final impression his team leaves on the committee, Arizona needs to win games for the sake of its NET. After sitting in the top 10 or just outside for most of the season, the team fell to No. 16. If the rankings were based exclusively on NET, this would be the last seed that would host the first rounds of the tournament. It would be heartbreaking for the Wildcats to lose hosting this season after the pandemic ended that opportunity for the past two seasons.
On the plus side, the committee’s previous two top 16 outings had the Wildcats slightly higher than their NET. It would be better to avoid relying on it, however.
“We realize we’ve been saying the same things for the past two weeks, so it’s time to put it all together because it’s time to win,” Yeaney said.
USC (12-14, 5-11) @ 12 Arizona (19-6, 9-6)
When and where: The game kicks off at 12 p.m. MST on Saturday, February 26 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona.
TV: The game will air on Pac-12 Los Angeles.
Radio: Brody Dryden’s radio call will be at 1400 AM (KTUC). The show is also available online at The university network Or on the station website.
Statistics: In-game stats will be available at Arizona live stats.
Rankings and ratings: Arizona is ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 11 in the USA TODAY Sports/WBCA poll. The Wildcats are No. 16 in the NET and No. 22 in Ranking Her Hoop Stats.
USC is not ranked in any of the major polls. The Women of Troy are No. 74 in the NET and No. 106 in the HHS rankings
Home and Away: The Wildcats are 11-1 at home. The Trojan Women are 3-6 on the road.
First meeting: Both teams were scheduled to play during the opening week of the Pac-12 game, but the Trojan Women had to cancel due to the pandemic. When the game was postponed, USC defeated Arizona 76-67. The Wildcats were without Shaina Pellington and Lauren Ware in this game.
Ranking : USC sits 10th in the Pac-12 with a 5-11 record. Arizona is fourth with a 9-6 record.
Screenings: His hoop stats give the Wildcats a 91 chance of winning at McKale Center. The model predicts 70.2 points for Arizona and 54.7 points for USC. This model uses machine learning to create its rankings and predictions. He was coached using stats including Reese for the Wildcats.
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