W Hoops: Cats Open Season in Hawaii

Nov. 11, 2008

Dates: Friday-Sunday, November 14-16, 2008
Location: Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, Hilo, Hawaii
Radio: KTUC AM 1400 (Derrick Palmer, Alysiah Bond)
Game Times: Friday vs. Toledo, 3:00 p.m. (HST);
Saturday vs. Loyola Marymount, 12:00 p.m.;
Sunday vs. Hawaii, 2:00 p.m. (HST)

NOTE: There is a 3-hour time difference between Tucson and Hilo.

Tip Off Time: With the preseason behind them, it's finally time for the 2008-09 Arizona women's basketball team to take the floor. The Cats begin the campaign on the road as they play their first three games as part of the Bank of Hawaii Classic in Hilo, Haw. Arizona opens the season against Toledo on Friday afternoon before matching up against Loyola Marymount on Saturday and their Hawaiian hosts on Sunday. All games will be played at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.

Catch the Action: Entering his second season calling Arizona women's basketball games will be Derrick Palmer. He will be joined by Alysiah Bond, the Arizona women's basketball director of operations and former collegiate point guard at The Ohio State University. Wildcat games can be heard live on KTUC AM 1400. All broadcasts will start 30 minutes prior to tip-off for the pre-game show. Please visit www.arizonaathletics.com for all of your live stats, audio and video needs.

Panhandle Recap: The Wildcats enjoyed their final preseason preparation outing last Tuesday evening by dismantling visiting Panhandle State (Okla.), 85-33. Freshman Reiko Thomas continued her impressive start to her debut campaign by leading all scorers with 20 points, hitting 16-of-18 free throws. Five Wildcats scored in double figures as Ashley Frazier hit a trio of three-pointers to tally 13 points to go along with 7 assists and 4 steals, Jhakia McDonald and Sarah Hays chipped in 12 points each and Amina Njonkou posted 11 points and a game-best 11 rebounds. Arizona forced 24 turnovers, scoring 40 points off the Aggie miscues, while turning the ball over just 10 times. The Wildcats followed the lead of Thomas and knocked down 27-of-32 free throws (.844) for the game.

Series Notes: Arizona will be heading into relatively unchartered waters when it opens the season in Hawaii. The Wildcats have only played a combined six games against the three opponents, including four of those against their Island hosts. The `Cats are 1-0 against both Toledo and Loyola Marymount, and have split four previous encounters against Hawaii. Arizona has not played Toledo since the 1991 season, a 65-60 victory, while their lone game against Loyola Marymount was just three seasons ago in a 74-66 triumph. The Wildcats have won the last two meetings against the Rainbow Wahine, including a 66-57 win in November of 2003.

Aloha Means Hello: The Wildcats will be making their fifth-ever trip to the Hawaiian Islands and first since the 1999-2000 season. The `Cats have a 6-6 all-time record in Hawaii over those first four trips. In each of the first three visits, the team posted a record of 1-2 in three-game excursions before the 1999-2000 team went unbeaten on its voyage with wins over Oklahoma (75-59), Tennessee Tech (87-71) and the host Hawaii (86-73).

Tournament Time: Arizona will be opening its season in a tournament for the 13th time in program history. The Wildcats have an all-time record of 18-12 in those tournament games, including a 1-2 mark last season. The `Cats tipped-off the 2007-08 campaign in University Park, Pennsylvania at the WBCA/Basketball Travelers Classic hosted by Penn State. The `Cats suffered losses to Penn State (87-78) and Pittsburgh (81-58) before knocking off UNC-Charlotte (86-81) in an overtime battle.

Lid-Lifters: The Wildcats are 21-15 all-time in season-opening games, including a 5-2 mark in games played on a neutral court. The `Cats open the 2008-09 season in Hawaii at the Bank of Hawaii Invitational in Hilo at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium against Toledo.

Scouting the Rockets: Toledo is a member of the Mid-American Conference West Division and finished the 2007-08 season with an overall record of 14-16 while going 5-10 in league play to finish in 5th position. The Rockets return two starters from last season and six players overall while welcoming five new players to the team. Head coach Tricia Cullop will be making her debut at Toledo after compiling a 123-110 record in eight seasons at University of Evansville. Junior forward Allie Clifton is the Rockets' top returning player after averaging 13.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Toledo came up on the losing end of a 76-70 decision in its one exhibition game as Clifton will be sidelined for a month or more with a leg injury.

Scouting the Lions: Head coach Julie Wilhoit begins her 14th season at the Lions' helm after posting even marks of 15-15 overall and 7-7 in West Coast Conference play one season ago. The Lions return a trio of starters from 2007-08, including all-WCC honorable mention pick Renahy Young, who averaged 10.9 points per game. The Lions dominated from start to finish in its exhibition game, a 92-52 win over Point Loma Nazarene. The Lions forced 33 turnovers and got 8 three-pointers from junior Lisa Helmers, who led all scorers with 24 points.

Scouting the Rainbow Wahine: The hosts of the Bank of Hawaii Classic, Hawaii posted a mark of 12-18 last season, finishing 6-10 in WAC play to take 6th place. Two starters are back and seven players overall for the Rainbow Wahine. Fourth-year head coach Jim Bolla has a record of 56-57 at Hawaii and 356-177 in 19 seasons overall as a head coach. Megan Tinnin is the team's leading returning scorer at 8.9 points per game. Hawaii earned a 66-60 win over BYU-Hawaii in its lone exhibition game as Tinnin had 14 points and Dita Liepkaine had 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists.

Conference Comparison: The Wildcats have posted mixed results against teams from the three conferences they will square off against this weekend in Hawaii. Arizona is a perfect 4-0 against teams from the Mid-American Conference, tallying single wins over Toledo, Western Michigan, Kent State and Bowling Green. The Cats are also 19-5 against teams from the West Coast Conference, which includes Loyola Marymount and the University of San Diego, whom the team will host in December. One league the team has not posted a record above .500 against is the Western Athletic Conference, which has posted a record of 28-24 over Arizona teams all-time. Hawaii, Boise State and Louisiana Tech are teams from the WAC that appear on the Arizona schedule this season.

Injury Bug: The one thing a first-year head coach would prefer to avoid is injuries, but that bug has taken a small bite out of the Wildcats. Freshman Malia Nahinu will be sidelined for 6-7 weeks with a stress fracture in her right leg while both Tasha Dickey and Courtney Clements have been nursing leg injuries. Clements will more than likely miss the three games in Hawaii, but Dickey should be ready to go when the Wildcats face the Rockets this Friday afternoon.

Going the Distance: With the Arizona backcourt shorthanded due to injuries, Reiko Thomas was forced to go wire-to-wire last week against Panhandle State and log 40 minutes. Ashley Whisonant was the only player to see every minute of action in games last season, accomplishing the feat on four occasions during the 2007-08 season. That was not even the highest number of minutes played in a single game last season, however, as Whisonant saw 48 minutes in a double-overtime loss at Oregon State.

We Hardly Knew You: The Arizona roster was recently trimmed by one spot as junior guard Ipek Turkyilmaz learned that she is no longer eligible to play NCAA Division I basketball. She attended school in her native Turkey and information was retrieved that stated her window of competition started then instead of during her time at Barton County Community College last season. This prevented her from gaining eligibility through the NCAA Clearinghouse, but she will remain with the team as a student manager.

Charity Drive: The Wildcats were quite proficient at the free throw line last Tuesday against Panhandle State, connecting on 27-of-32 attempts for a .844 percentage. Though the statistics do not count toward the regular season, that type of outing will still give the Wildcats confidence heading forward. The last time the team had a comparable outing at the charity stripe was on January 14, 2006 against Oregon when the Wildcats made 26-of-30 attempts (.867) in a game also played in McKale Center.

Double Trouble: Last season, the Wildcats recorded 20 double-doubles. Of that total, 19 of those were tallied by players returning for the 2008-09 season. Senior Amina Njonkou led the team with 11 while sophomore Ify Ibekwe had 7 and senior Beatrice Bofia had one, each of those coming through points and rebounds. The 20th double-double was recorded by departed point guard Ashley Whisonant, who posted 13 points and 10 assists in a 78-71 win over Portland on November 16.

Board Members: Speaking of double-doubles, the Wildcats bring back two of the most ferocious rebounders in the Pac-10 in the form of Njonkou and Ibekwe. Njonkou held the total team lead and finished 4th in the conference with 221 rebounds while Ibekwe was 9th in the league with 192 boards despite missing six games due to an eye injury. On a per game basis, however, Ibekwe was 4th with an 8.0 average while Njonkou was one place behind her at 7.4 per contest.

Leading Off: As Arizona's 8th-ever coach of the women's basketball program, Niya Butts will be looking to improve upon the 4-3 record her predecessors held in their first games in charge. Most recently, Joan Bonvicini captured a 79-77 win at Colorado State back on November 22, 1991 to start her lengthy tenure with the Wildcats.

Boomer Sooner: Though the exhibition game against Panhandle State did not count toward the season record, the Wildcats improved to 4-2 all-time record against teams from the state of Oklahoma. The most recent contest against a team from the Sooner State took place on March 20, 2005 as the Wildcats downed Oklahoma, 72-69, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Feeling Free: The Wildcats showed stark improvement from the free throw line in the Red/Blue game as opposted to last season's numbers. In 2007-08, the Cats tallied a .652 mark from the charity stripe while the opposition shot over 60 points higher at .715. Last week, however, Tasha Dickey made all eight of her attempts as the Wildcats finished 16-of-22 (.727). Strange enough, however, was the fact that the Wildcats were just 2-7 in games last season where they shot .700 or better from the free throw line.

Slow Starts: Last season, the Wildcats were not a consistent scoring team in the first half, being outpointed by the opposition by a tally of 999-820. Though they closed the gap to just a 23-point difference in the second half of games, they can't expect to mount comebacks on a regular basis against solid teams. The Cats hope to buck that trend on Tuesday after falling behind by a 19-7 count against the Blue team last Wednesday evening.

Turn It Over: A problem for the Wildcats last season was turnovers as the team averaged 19.6 giveaways per game. However, the Cats only committed 10 miscues against Panhandle State, a total the team only came close to on three occasions last season. Arizona recorded 11 turnovers in a 71-63 win on February 2 against Oregon State and had 12 giveaways against both California (Feb. 16) and Washington State (Feb. 23).

Turn Up The Pressure: If the exhibition games are any indication as to the defensive intensity the Wildcats will bring to the court this season, Arizona fans will be pleased with the team that takes the floor. Arizona forced 26 turnovers against the Blue team last Wednesday, scoring 19 points off those takeaways, while committing four fewer giveaways than the opponent. Last season, the Wildcats picked up 7 of its 10 wins when forcing more turnovers.

Block Party: The Wildcats were one of the most prolific teams in regards to blocked shots last season, amassing 106 for the campaign to rank second in the Pac-10. The 3.53 blocks per game average was led by Ify Ibekwe with 30 while Beatrice Bofia had 23 and Sarah Hays added 13. The Wildcats posted a season-best 10 blocks in a win against Long Beach State on December 9, 2007. It was also the first time the Cats had eclipsed the century mark as a team since the 2004-05 campaign when the team posted a school-record 131 rejections.

Family Ties: To borrow from the former sit-com, Tasha Dickey has family ties that set her destiny to be a Wildcat long ago. The daughter of two former UofA student-athletes, Dickey made 21 starts for the Cats last season, averaging 6.9 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. She got her sophomore season off to a strong start, canning all eight of her free throw attempts to finish with a team-high 16 points to go along with five rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes of play during the Red/Blue Game.

Simply The Best: The Wildcats will have their hands full this season as they play a challenging 29-game regular season schedule. With the Associated Press Preseason Poll being released on November 1, the Wildcats are set to play seven games against teams ranked in the initial top 25. The Cats have two games each against #2 Stanford, #9 California and #17 Arizona State during Pac-10 play after they entertain #11-ranked Texas A&M in McKale Center on Tuesday, November 25.

Against All Odds: The difficult slate of games the Wildcats face this season includes some impressive credentials boasted by its opponents. Of the 20 teams the Cats face during the 2008-09 campaign, eight of them were postseason participants. Six of those teams took part in the NCAA Tournament and amassed a record of 10-5 that included a run by Stanford to the championship game. Two other teams each went 1-1 in the postseason NIT and three of the eight teams won at least a share of their respective regular season conference titles.

Working Their Way Up: Arizona was handed the dubious honor of being picked last among all Pac-10 teams when the Preseason Coaches Poll was released in late October. Defending champion Stanford earned the top spot, edging Bay Area rival California by just two points thanks to a 6-4 advantage in first place votes. The Cats, meanwhile, got just 16 total points, finishing four points behind Washington State for 9th position.

1,000 Point Club: Last season, senior Ashley Whisonant vaulted up the Arizona all-time scoring list, finishing her career in 5th place with 1,451 points. Though there are no current Wildcats anywhere near that mark, senior Amina Njonkou has a considerable chance at becoming the 16th player in team history to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Njonkou has amassed 691 points in her three seasons with the Wildcats, including a 392-point tally last season during her junior campaign. If she is able to maintain a similar scoring output for the 2007-08 season, she will reach the mark with during the second round of Pac-10 play.

Care To Speculate: Sophomore Ify Ibekwe had an outstanding freshman campaign derailed for six games midway through the season after taking an elbow to the eye. She still managed to pull down 232 rebounds, good for 4th on the single-season list for freshmen. If she had been able to play in all 30 games and maintained her 8.0 average, she would have moved up to third position and would have been the 7th-best single season in school history for any class. Assuming Ibekwe played in 30 games for four seasons and kept her rebounding average the same, she would finish with 960 rebounds, a total that would make her the Wildcats' all-time leading rebounder ahead of current record holder Adia Barnes at 921.

A Dash Like Ash: A host of new Wildcats have a big job on their hands trying to replace the production of departed senior Ashley Whisonant. The program's all-time leader in made free throws and 5th leading scorer, Whisonant led the Wildcats on the offensive end a season ago with 448 points, an average of 15.4 per game. She also topped the squad in minutes played (1,083), assists (141) and steals (51).

Record This: A number of single-game milestones were reached last season while several other players placed their name on a number of top 10 lists for a single game. Whisonant started things off by matching the single game records for field goals made (15) and attempted (29) against Oregon State. Ibekwe had the third-best shooting game in team history, connecting on 10-of-11 shots against Middle Tennessee State for a .909 clip. Rounding out the trio was Beatrice Bofia, who pulled down 18 rebounds in the same Oregon State contest where Whisonant made her mark. Bofia became the 8th Wildcat to reach that mark, which is the 3rd-most for a single game. The single game rebounding record remains at 25, set by Jill Longanecker in 1979.

Birthday Bash: Three Wildcats will have celebrated a birthday at one point before this week's trip comes to a close. Beatrice Bofia was the first to blow out candles when she celebrated her birthday last Sunday. Freshman Courtney Clements turns another year older on November 12 while Amani Butler completes the threesome with her birthday falling two days later on November 14.

Up Next: The Wildcats will open up the 14-game home portion of the 2008-09 schedule on Sunday, November 23 against UC Santa Barbara with tip-off tentatively set for 3:00 p.m. The Cats will be back on Olson Court 48 hours later to tangle with #10/11 Texas A&M in a marquee showdown with that game scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m. in the McKale Center.

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