True, Pac-12 play is going to be a brutal marathon this year, but the Bears get a light introduction against what is pretty clearly the worst team in the league.
Arizona has finally moved on from Niya Butts after 8 seasons with a combined record of 34-110. Yes, it’s true, Arizona averaged a Pac-12 record of 4-14 over 8 seasons, which is a hell of a case study in how administrators treat MBB and WBB very differently.
Arizona brought in alum Adia Barnes to take over, and so far the hire appears promising. Barnes is a WNBA veteran who was most recently an assistant coach for Washington. While Arizona is still lacking in high end talent, she’s got Arizona playing respectable defense, and mostly beating the teams they should beat, for the first time in a while.
Note that I said ‘mostly.’ Arizona’s best win is either a road wins over George Mason or a road win over New Mexico St., and they have a reasonable road loss to Kansas. But a home loss to North Texas and a schedule full of RPI 250+ teams diminishes the effect of an otherwise decent looking 9 wins. Everything about Arizona needs to be viewed through the prism of a schedule strength in the upper 200s.
PG Lucia Alonso, 5’7’’ Fr.
G Malena Washington, 5’6’’ Sr.
G Lauren Evans, 5’11’’ Sr.
F LaBrittney Jones, 6’1’’ Sr.
F Destiny Graham, 6’3’’ So.
G JaLea Bennett, 6’0’’ Jr.
F Breanna Workman, 6’1’’ Sr.
F Dejza James, 6’1’’ Sr.
LaBrittney Jones is definitely Arizona’s leading offensive threat - the only player who has combined reasonable efficiency with volume and variety from the field. Behind her are a couple of secondary threats. Malena Washington his a high volume, low efficiency scorer, and JaLea Bennett is a solid wing, but beyond that Arizona has struggled for consistent offense, particularly with Taryn Griffey out for most of December with a foot injury.
As noted above, this is a lineup that is winning games with defense - specifically, holding teams to an eFG% of 40%. Beyond that impressive number, Arizona hasn’t done a ton else that stands out - a narrow advantage on the glass, a meaningful turnover deficit, and more free throws allowed, against a weak schedule.
Our Computer Overlords Predict
Sagarin Predictor: Cal by 12
That’s a pretty hefty margin for a road conference game, but that’s what you get against the one mediocre team in the Pac-12. Arizona’s biggest strength (FG% defense) goes up against Cal’s biggest strength (FG% offense), and it’s hard seeing Arizona’s relative strength hold up. It’s also important to recognize that Cal is the best team Arizona has faced this season by a significant margin - Cal is definitely the first top 50 team, and maybe the first top 100 team depending on the metric. Considering how Cal has played and the general trajectory of the season, this shouldn’t be close.