It’s been a challenge for Adia Barnes to find anyone brave enough to play Arizona on its homecourt, but she was finally able to find a match.
The Wildcats announced Monday that they will host the Idaho Vandals on Dec. 23. Game time and broadcast information will be unveiled at a later date.
Right now it’s just the second non-conference game on Arizona’s schedule. The other was vs. NAU, who the Wildcats dispatched on Nov. 29
Barnes has tried to schedule other regional opponents like GCU, New Mexico and New Mexico State, but they all turned her down for what she believes is the fear of being blown out.
“They don’t say that, but it’s obvious that’s the reason,” Barnes said last week. “Because at one point GCU was missing seven games and didn’t want to play us, and I think financially they have more constraints than we do. So I don’t understand. I mean, if you would have asked me a couple years ago, ‘Do you want to play South Carolina?’ I would have said, ‘Heck no!’ But if they’re an hour away I would have if I’m a mid-major school because if we played out of our mind and beat them, it’s the upset of the century. But if you lose it’s not, so I don’t understand. It has to be that, but I think at this point in a pandemic when we’re all trying to save money for our programs, and people are losing jobs and stuff, I want to play regionally. I want to save our department money.”
The Vandals are a quality opponent. They were picked to finish in a tie for first in the Big Sky preseason coaches poll with in-state rival Idaho State. So far Idaho is 2-0 with a pair of home wins over Sacramento State.
Arizona faced Idaho in the WNIT a couple years ago, beating them 68-60 in Tucson.
The Vandals went 23-9 last season, finishing second in the Big Sky. They return the high-scoring duo of Gina Marxen and Beyonce Bea. Both were the top 10 in the conference in scoring last season. Marxen averaged 13.3 points per game, and Bea had 12.6 points a game last season for the Vandals.
The Wildcats rose to No. 6 in the AP poll on Monday, their highest ranking in program history, but are struggling with their consistency, needing to rally from double-digit deficits to beat UCLA and USC this weekend.
That is one of the reasons Barnes has been so adamant about finding some more non-conference opponents.
“I do want to add some games,” she said Sunday. “I’m not sure if I want to add an NAIA (team). In a typical year, we wouldn’t. But this year maybe it’s better to just play the game. Right now we need a lot of practice.”