Analyzing the Rapid Rise of Adia Barnes' Arizona Wildcats

After beating UConn in the Final Four, Arizona’s NCAA Tournament run came to an end in a heartbreaking one-point loss to Stanford in the Championship game. However, it was still a historic season for the Wildcats. Adia Barnes brought the Arizona women to their first Final Four and National Championship appearances after only 5 years as the head coach of Arizona. She brought this program to new heights at a dizzying speed. The following article analyzes the improvements Arizona has made over the last 5 years and explains how Adia Barnes made it all possible. Adia Barnes has been elevating her team off the court as well: they have recorded a team GPA that is the highest in program history and they lead the Arizona Athletic department in community service hours for multiple years. Here is a breakdown of Barnes' 5 years at Arizona: The graph above plots the scoring margin of all of Adia Barnes’ games coaching Arizona against the date. If the scoring margin is above 0, it means the Wildcats won that game, and vice versa. Wins or Losses can be highlighted using the menu on the right, as well as their history against specific teams. Check out their history against Stanford. In the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, the vast majority of Arizona's games were losses. In 2018-19, they won the WNIT title, a tournament for teams that don’t make it to the NCAA Tournament. In 2019-20, they were gearing up to compete in the NCAA Tournament before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In 2020-21, they made it all of the way to the Championship Game in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s say that again: Adia Barnes brought her team from a 20% win percentage in 2017-18 to a 78% win percentage and an NCAA Championship Game appearance just three seasons later. How did she do it? You can’t talk about Arizona without talking about Aari McDonald. She played in the 2016-17 season for the University of Washington, where she was the 3rd leading scorer as a freshman. She then transferred to Arizona and had to sit out the 2017-18 season due to transfer rules. She returned to the game in 2018-19 with a vengeance and hasn’t looked back since. For all four of Aari's statistics in the graph below, there is a large jump from the 2016-17 season to the 2018-19 season. In the case of turnovers, the jump is in the wrong direction because Aari was much more involved in the game. For 3 pointers made and turnovers, Aari continued to improve after 2018-19 in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. However, the year with her highest average points and free throw attempts (while shooting free throws at about the same percentage in her last 3 seasons) was 2018-19. Arizona still saw significant improvements between 2018-19 and 2020-21, but Aari’s game stayed at the same level in some areas. They weren’t even one of the 64 teams invited to the tournament in 2019. Fast forward to 2021, and they were not only invited to the tournament, but they were one of the last two teams standing. Aari has been a steady presence for Arizona since 2018-19. But what has continued to fuel their rise to the top? To start, Barnes is a great recruiter. Current Junior Forward Cate Reese was Arizona’s highest-ranked recruit ever and Arizona’s first McDonald’s All-American ever. Keep in mind she was a senior in high school during Arizona’s season with a 20% win percentage. Cate didn't commit to Arizona because of what she saw on the court on game day, but Barnes managed to convince her to give Arizona a shot. And the good thing she did: Cate’s averaged 12.3 points per game over her 3 seasons with Arizona. Guard Shaina Pellington was a redshirt Junior this season following her transfer from Oklahoma after 2 seasons. She scored 15 points against Stanford in the Championship game, second only to Aari’s 22 points. Barnes is also great at developing talent once they get to Arizona. Senior Forward Sam Thomas has been with Arizona since its 6-24 2017-18 season. It’s only fitting that she scored 12 points in Arizona’s Final Four victory over UConn, second only to Aari’s 26 points. Barnes has done a great job of developing a scrappy team that plays very well together. Just look at the graph below breaking down steals per game by season. The average number of steals Arizona has made each season has been increasing since 2017-18, despite facing tougher competition as they rise through the ranks. Defensive rebounds have been increasing, fouls have been decreasing, and turnovers have been decreasing per season. See graphs of these statistics here. With all of that being said, Aari McDonald stepped up in the NCAA Tournament. The following series of graphs (click on the arrows to go between graphs) shows Aari’s points, free throw attempts, and 3 pointers made per game in the 2020-21 season. Games played in the NCAA Tournament are distinguished with their opponent’s team logo. Particularly in the UConn and Stanford games, Aari made herself a huge target, hence a large number of free throws attempted, while still managing to hit more 3’s than average. Watch out for Aari McDonald. She has a bright future ahead of her in the WNBA. And watch out for Arizona. With Adia Barnes at the helm, you’ll be hearing a lot about Arizona Women’s Basketball for years to come. Video Credits: ESPN No copyright infringement is intended The Tactician refrains from monetizing infringing content

Analyzing the Rapid Rise of Adia Barnes' Arizona Wildcats