Cats Outlast Lions, 93-88

Nov. 15, 2008

HILO, Haw. - Less than 24 hours after a heart-breaking one-point loss, the University of Arizona showed guts and heart in pulling out a 93-88 triple-overtime win against Loyola Marymount, Saturday afternoon at the Bank of Hawaii Invitational.

A hangover from Friday's loss to Toledo looked unavoidable for the Wildcats as they dug a deep hole early in the first half. LMU hit four 3-pointers over the first 10 minutes of the game while the Cats made just 1-of-10 shots to fall behind, 22-6.

With the offense struggling and sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe picking up two early fouls, head coach Niya Butts went to her bench. She summoned senior center Beatrice Bofia and sophomore guard Faihza Hill, a walk-on who was making her regular season debut.

Instead of looking rusty as they took the floor, the two players sparked the team to life and quickly turned the game on its head. Hill drained a three-pointer in the corner at the 9:18 mark, then Bofia recorded a steal that sparked a quick 8-2 spurt to give the Wildcats life.

They continued to battle back and trimmed the deficit to eight at the half as Bofia scored the last four points of the stanza to finish with 11 points and four rebounds while Hill added seven points, making all three of her field goal attempts.

The Wildcats made some much-needed adjustments to attack the zone defense deployed by the Lions with considerable success. Though the Lions hit a three-pointer to start the second half, the Cats whittled the lead down in small chunks. The deficit was finally erased at the 3:44 mark as Jhakia McDonald hit a jumper to complete a 6-0 run for a 53-51 lead.

Ify Ibekwe hit a free throw with 2:45 left to push the lead up one more point, but the Lions answered with the next four points to regain a one-point cushion. Arizona answered with a conventional three-point play by Amina Njonkou with 45 seconds left, then the Lions missed a jumper by Kavita Goss. However, the Cats turned the ball over and Renahy Young drove the lane with 3 seconds left to force the extra stanza.

The fun was just beginning for those in attendance as plenty of drama still was left to unfold. The teams traded the lead through most of the first overtime before the Cats jumped ahead by three points after a driving lay-up by Ibekwe and two free throws by Reiko Thomas.

There were plenty of heroics remaining for the Lions as Goss drilled one of her six three-pointers with six seconds left to add five more minutes to the game. Goss almost single-handedly put the Wildcats away in the second overtime, hitting three-straight three-pointers from well beyond the arc. However, the Cats kept their poise and Thomas played spoiler this time with a driving jumper in the lane with four seconds left to knot the teams at 79-79.

The third overtime proved to be the charm for Arizona, hitting four-straight shots to start the frame and getting a free throw by Thomas to build a 88-82 lead. Four more free throws by Thomas down the stretch and one by Hill gave the Cats just enough cushion to give Butts her first coaching victory.

Arizona dominated the paint for the second-straight game, claiming a 56-41 edge on the boards and winning the battle of frontcourt players, 53-11. The Cats also survived 28 turnovers by making 12-of-16 free throws in the overtime sessions.

'This team showed a lot of heart and a lot of grit, a lot of toughness,' said Butts, whose team led in the final moments on Friday before two free throws swung the game in the favor of Toledo. 'I was really, really proud of the way they fought. They could have easily folded, but we fought.'

Njonkou led the way for Arizona with team-highs of 19 points and 15 rebounds as five Wildcats scored in double figures. Bofia finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds while Thomas added 15 points and six rebounds. Ibekwe had 13 points, 9 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots to go along with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting by Hill.

All told, the Wildcats got 32 points from its three bench players, that coming one day after a tally of just three points from two substitutes.

'This gives those players a little confidence that they can come in and make some plays and make things happen,' said Butts, who had just nine healthy players dressed. 'They were ready when their name was called and that's all I ask of them. When your name is called, you be ready to go and they were ready when the time came.'

Young led all scorers with 31 points for Loyola Marymount (1-1) while Goss added 21 points and Cassady Moore kicked in 11 points and 5 rebounds.

Arizona (1-1) wraps up its season-opening trip against Hawaii on Sunday, November 16 with tip-off scheduled for 2:00 p.m. (HST)

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