Adia Barnes had some glory days as a player at the University of Arizona. Now she's experiencing success in a another realm — that of coach.
Barnes' tenacious Wildcats advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time in history turning back No. 2 seed Texas A&M 74-59 Saturday night in Mercado Region play at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
The Wildcats (19-5) advance to Monday's Elite 8 showdown against No. 4 seed Indiana, a 73-70 upset winner over No. 1 seed NC State earlier in the night.
Once again it was senior All-American Aari McDonald heading the effort with 31 points — highlighted by six 3-pointers — which extended her streak of games scoring in double digits to 90 games. She did that easily with 19 points in the opening half alone. For good measure she also had five rebounds and two steals.
The team's appearance in the Sweet 16 was the school's first since 1998 when Barnes was a player. Earlier in the week McDonald, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, said her team was not content just getting to the Sweet 16. That showed as the Wildcats used a third-quarter surge to take a lead that was never in doubt.
Arizona guard Aari McDonald (2) reacts after scoring two of her 31 points against Texas A&M in the Sweet 16. (Photo: Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)
But It was Arizona's trademark defense that again did the trick. The Wildcats forced 19 turnovers and finished the contest with a 28-2 edge in points off turnovers which helped overcome a 37-29 deficit on the boards.
A critical stretch came at the end of the third quarter with Arizona holding the Aggies (25-3) scoreless for five minutes in third quarter that ended with Arizona holding a 59-46 lead.
Trinity Baptiste scored inside for a 52-44 Arizona lead. Texas A& then turned the ball over three straight times, the second of those three when standout Jordan Nixon was called for a charge with 1:47 left in the quarter. It was also her third of the game.
Then at the other end on the ensuing possession McDonald drilled a 3-pointer for a 58-44 lead and the Wildcats hung on from there.
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The closest Texas A&M would get was 10 points at 62-52 with 5:222 left but Sam Thomas nailed a 3-pointer, then Cate Reese added another to boost the lead back to 68-52 and Barnes' crew cruised from there.
Arizona shot 46 percent (28-for-61). It isn't necessarily known for its prowess from long distance, averaging five makes per game but the Wildcats hit a season best 13 from the perimeter.
Texas A&M, 10 years removed from its only national championship, shot 47 percent (24-for-51). It had three players in double figures led by Aaliyah Wilson with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Nixon, who had 35 in the Aggies last victory, was held to three points, making just one of six shots from the field.
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