TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It’s been a perfect start to the season for Arizona men’s and women’s basketball.
The two Wildcats teams went undefeated in the month of November, sending both teams soaring into the national rankings.
The women are currently ranked No. 7, while the men are ranked No. 11 in the country.
Both squads are ranked among the top 11 teams in the nation for the first time since the end of the 1997-98 regular season, per Arizona Athletics.
Both teams have been dominating most of their opponents as well. The men’s team has beaten opponents by 33.8 points per game this season, with the women cruising past the competition by 26.7 points per game so far.
The men have scored a big win over No. 4 Michigan in Las Vegas, while the women took down No. 6 Louisville in overtime in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The teams both thrive off of strong defense, strong inside presence and fast tempo.
Even after a Final Four run last season, coach Adia Barnes believes the women’s team was overlooked to start the season. The ‘Cats were ranked No. 22 initially.
Barnes says that seems to have taken the pressure off, but she’s also not letting the high ranking distract her.
“I don’t feel pressure at all because no one thought we’d be good,” she said Wednesday. “We lost 52 percent of our scoring from last year. So I thought we’d be good because we have more balance, we have more size. But no one else did. I mean, we were chosen fifth in the Pac-12.
“I feel like the expectations are so much lower from everybody, except for us. So don’t really buy into that because as fast as you can move up in the rankings, you can move slowly down.”
“We set standards for ourselves and I think that we’re also kind of overcoming those and the boundaries that we kind of set,” said senior forward Cate Reese. “So I’m proud of what we’ve done so far. It’s definitely just the beginning.”
On the men’s side, players seem to be buying into new coach Tommy Lloyd’s fast-paced system.
“It’s a system that emphasizes sharing the ball and making a bunch of simple, quick decisions,” Lloyd explained. “They’ve done a really good job taking coaching. When tell ‘em something’s important and we gotta work on this, they seem to understand that and make it a priority. So I’m most proud of that.”
But they aren’t buying too much into the high ranking and proving any doubters wrong.
“Really doesn’t matter to us,” senior forward Kim Aiken, Jr. said. “We’re just with each other. We know we have a locker room that’s full of guys that’s for each other. And when we go out on the court we’re with each other and we’re trying to represent Arizona the best way that we can.”
Lloyd says while COVID-19 is a legitimate excuse for some fans not attending games at McKale Center so far, he hopes the team can play well enough to boost attendance and bring back the arena’s notoriously intense game day atmospheres.
“We’ve got a greta fan base, but to be honest with you, I haven’t felt it,” he said. “We’ve got to earn the fan support. And that’s the way I’m approaching it. We’re not gonna beg for it. We’re gonna go out and put the best product we can out there. And we’re gonna play our hearts out. And if they choose to come watch us, we’ll be excited.”
The early-season success may be good for bringing fans back to McKale, but there is still work to be done on the court.
“Doesn’t really matter what you’re ranked now, it matters what you’re ranked at the end of the season,” Barnes said. “So I just think for me the focus is figuring out rotations, figuring out what our identity is, because we really don’t know yet.”
Both teams have an unexpected week off this week. The men’s Pac-12 opener scheduled for Thursday night at McKale was postponed due to COVID-19 complications within the Huskies’ program.
The women’s team had their game against UC Riverside cancelled due to COVID issues within the Highlanders’ program.
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