Game Notes: UC Santa Barbara

Nov. 21, 2008

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Game 4: Arizona (2-1) vs. UC Santa Barbara (1-1)
Date: Sunday, November 23, 2008
Time: 3:00 p.m. (MST)
Location: Olson Court, McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: KTUC AM 1400 (Derrick Palmer, Alysiah Bond)

Tip Off Time: They’ve played exhibition games and they have been on the road to open the season. But now, it’s finally time for the Arizona women’s basketball team and first-year head coach Niya Butts to make their full home debut as the Cats host UC Santa Barbara, the first of two games to be played in just over 48 hours in McKale Center for the Wildcats.

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 for all of your live stats, audio and video needs.

Hawaii Recap: Despite a season-opening loss, the Wildcats rebounded with a pair of victories and ended up as champions of the Bank of Hawaii Classic, contested at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo, Hawaii. Senior forward Amina Njonkou and sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe were each named to the all-tournament team as the Cats posted wins over Loyola Marymount (93-88) and Hawaii (62-50) after dropping a hearbreaker in the opening game to Toledo (64-63). Not only did the Wildcats bring home a nice piece of hardware for the trophy case, but Niya Butts also earned her first career coaching victory, even if it did take three overtime periods to dispose of the Lions.

In November: The opening month of the basketball season has been kind to the Wildcats through their history as they have an overall record of 60-46 including the 2-1 start the current team has amassed. After posting no less than a .500 record since the 1994-95 season, the 2007-08 Wildcats were the first team to have a losing record in the month of November after finishing 2-4.

Series Notes: Arizona holds a slim 7-6 lead in the all-time series with UC Santa Barbara that includes an even 4-4 mark in McKale Center. The teams last met in Santa Barbara on December 19, 2005 with the Gauchos earning a 86-63 triumph over the Cats to give them wins in three of the past four meetings. Just over one year before that contest, the Wildcats held court here in Tucson with a 96-80 win over the Gauchos as Dee Dee Wheeler knocked down seven 3-point shots to finish with a game-high 35 points to go along with 11 rebounds and five assists.

Aloha Means Hello:The Wildcats made their fifth-ever trip to the Hawaiian Islands and first since the 1999-2000 season last week, returning home with a pair of wins in three games to improve their all-time record on the islands to 8-7. The trip was the second-straight excursion that saw the team come home with a winning record. 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 opened its season in a tournament for the 13th time in program history. The Wildcats improved their all-time record to 20-13 in those tournament games thanks to a 2-1 record in Hawaii. 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 now 21-16 all-time in season-opening games, including a 5-3 mark in games played on a neutral court. Next season, the team will be looking to bounce back from consecutive season-opening losses after this season’s 64-63 setback against Toledo.

Scouting the Gauchos: UC Santa Barbara is a member of the Big West Conference and is currently 1-0. The Gauchos opened the season with a 75-66 win over the University of San Diego, a team the Wildcats will meet here in Tucson next month, before taking on Fresno State on Thursday evening. Senior point guard Lauren Pedersen had a game-high 27 points against the Toreros. UCSB is also under the guidance of a first-year head coach as Lindsay Gottlieb took charge of the program from Mark French, who had been in charge for 22 seasons.

Big West Showdown: Arizona will get its fill of the Big West Conference this season as the team has three games scheduled against its members, all of them here in McKale Center. After this afternoon’s contest, the Wildcats will host Long Beach State on December 14, then come back three days later to tangle with UC Riverside. The Wildcats will also play three games against teams from the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and two others against West Coast Conference (WCC) teams prior to the start of Pac-10 play.

Injury Update: Though the Wildcats came through their first three games with no new injuries to speak of, there are still plenty of team members continuing to nurse previous wounds. Freshman Malia Nahinu continues to be sidelined with a stress fracture in her right leg and is not expected back until after Christmas. Courtney Clements will have to wait another week before making her Arizona debut as she has not been cleared as of yet for full contact. The biggest blow, however, comes with news that Tasha Dickey will be having surgery on her right leg and will redshirt the 2008-09 season. An injury she sustained last season continues to flare up, so the medical staff and coaches decided to let her get back to 100 percent with this procedure.

Going the Distance: With a roster depleted due to injuries, the active and healthy Wildcats have seen their share of minutes through the first three games of the season. Eight times an Arizona player has logged at least 40 minutes of action in one of the games. Ashley Frazier leads the way as she has sat out just two of a possible 135 minutes, including a 53-minute log during the triple-overtime win against Loyola Marymount. Amina Njonkou (45) and Jhakia McDonald (44) also saw extra time against the Lions.

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: Though the Wildcats were not able to duplicate the free throw shooting output of .844 against Panhandle State during its trip to Hawaii, the team did connect on 45-of-68 attempts for a respectable .662 percentage. The key for the team was the opposition made nine less free throws and converted at just over 56 percent. Reiko Thomas kept up her fine from from the line with a 11-of-14 clip (.786) while Amina Njonkou also was stellar with a 14-of-17 ledger (.824).

Double Trouble: Last season, the Wildcats recorded 20 double-doubles and returned 19 of those to the fold with Njonkou and Beatrice Bofia returning for their senior seasons. Along with Ify Ibekwe, the trio have already amassed a combined four double-doubles, including a 23-point, 18-rebound output by Ibekwe in the season-opening loss to Toledo.

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.

Wiping the Glass: With their rebounding trio in fine form in Hawaii, the Wildcats dominated the glass in their first three games with a rebounding edge of 149-101. The difference in averages equates to 49.7 for the Wildcats to just 33.7 for the opposition. The Cats have managed to pull down double-digit offensive rebounds in each contest, holding a 41-36 edge in that category as well. Their prowess on the offensive glass has led to 49 second-chance points in three games, an average of over 16 per game.

Unlucky Number 18: For the second time in less than a year, a Wildcat player pulled down 18 rebounds in one game. Ibekwe started the 2008-09 season with 18 boards in the loss to Toledo, matching the total Bofia tallied against Oregon State on January 3rd. In both cases, however, the Wildcats lost the game. The total matched the 4th-best in program history, a mark that has now been achieved nine times by seven different players.

Early or Late: Arizona showed a Jekyll and Hyde personality when it comes to starting games while in Hawaii as the team jumped out to two early leads while also falling behind big in another game. The Cats built comfortable leads against both Toledo and Hawaii, but ended up down by a 22-6 count against Loyola Marymount. However, Arizona did battle back to end up with the win against the Lions, and after surrendering the lead against Toledo, the Cats erased a 9-point deficit before falling in the final seconds.

Turn It Over: One area the Wildcats will need to see improve as the season progresses is the turnover count. Despite earning a pair of wins and coming within four seconds of another, the Cats committed more turnovers than the opposition in all three games while in Hawaii. They gave the ball away 21 times in both regulation games while committing 28 miscues against LMU in the three-overtime contest for an average of 23.3 per game.

Dial 3: Three-point shooting was an achilles heel for the Wildcats last season. Through three games in 2008-09, the Wildcats have shown steady improvement in each contest thus far. After making just 1-of-11 attempts (.091) in the season opener, Arizona knocked down 4-of-14 (.286) from distance against LMU before hitting 4-of-9 three-pointers (.444) while beating Hawaii.

Up and In: A reliance on the frontcourt has seen the Wildcats tally an impressive 46.6 percent field goal mark (82-of-176) from the field through the first three games, a mark that is good enough for third in the Pac-10 early on. Instead of relying on the outside shot, the Wildcats worked the ball inside, averaging just one 3-point attempt for every five field goal attempts.

Hungry For More: An honorable mention all-Pac-10 award will not be enough for senior forward Amina Njonkou this season as she has started her final collegiate season with impressive numbers. She is currently leading the Wildcats in scoring at 17.3 points per game and shares the team lead at 10.0 rebounds per contest. She has connected on an outstanding 19-of-33 field goals (.576) and made 14-of-17 free throws (.824). She is currently 5th in the Pac-10 in scoring and rebounding, sharing her rebounding perch with teammate Ify Ibekwe.

Queen Bea: Reserve center Beatrice Bofia came off the bench in the two Arizona wins last week and instantly established herself as a vital role player for the Wildcats. In the two victories, Bofia connected on 14-of-23 shots (.609) and recorded a pair of double-doubles while playing 31 and 32 minutes against LMU and Hawaii, respectively. She tallied a career-best 17 points to go along with 11 rebounds and two blocked shots against the Lions. She followed that up with 14 points, 17 rebounds and two blocked shots against the Rainbow Wahine. Her 17 boards were one off of her career-high of 18 set last season at Oregon State. Her .583 field goal percentage leads the Wildcats and is tied for 13th in the Pac-10.

High-Faih: Another player to jump off the bench and make a significant impact for the Wildcats last week was sophomore walk-on Faihza Hill. Making her regular season debut after joining thte team midway through last season, Hill promptly stepped onto the floor and knocked down her first career field goal attempt, a three-pointer that stopped the 22-6 start to the Loyola Marymount game. In all, she made her first four shot attempts, two from behind the arc, and finished with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting in 21 minutes of play. A day later, she was 2-of-4 from the field, making both of her three-point shots, and added six points and a rebound in 16 quality minutes off the bench.

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 #8 Stanford, #7/6 California and #18/17 Arizona State during Pac-10 play after they entertain #7/12-ranked Texas A&M in McKale Center next 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. In the recently released media poll, the Wildcats were picked to finish 9th in the conference.

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. This season, senior Amina Njonkou has a considerable chance at becoming the 16th player in team history to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Njonkou amassed 691 points in her first three seasons with the Wildcats, including a 392-point tally last season, and has scored 52 points in three games to run her total to 743. Her current scoring average of 17.3 per game would push her over the 1,000-point mark in 15 more games, or at Arizona State on January 24.

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 recorded 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.

Up Next: The Wildcats will be back on Olson Court in just over 48 hours to tangle with #7/12 Texas A&M in a marquee showdown with tip-off scheduled for 7:00 p.m. The Cats will then hit the road for single games at Middle Tennessee State (Nov. 28) and Lousiana Tech (Dec. 6) before returning home to start a three-game homestand on Dec. 11 against San Diego.

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