W Hoops Game Notes: San Diego (6-3) at Arizona (3-4)

Dec. 10, 2008

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Date: Thursday, December 11, 2008
Time: 7 p.m. MST
Location: Olson Court, McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: KTUC AM 1400 (Derrick Palmer, Alysiah Bond)

Tip Off Time: Arizona opens up a three-game homestand against West Coast foes starting this evening against the University of San Diego. The two teams are also contracted to meet again next season at the Jenny Craig Pavilion in San Diego. The Wildcats will also host Long Beach State (Dec. 14) and UC Riverside (Dec. 17) during this holiday homestand.

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.

Louisiana Tech Recap: The good news for Arizona was that freshman guard Courtney Clements had a breakout game with 21 points and 8 rebounds in 32 minutes of play. The bad news is the rest of the team continued to struggle on offense as the Cats dropped a 68-53 decision to WAC foe Louisiana Tech on Saturday evening. The Lady Techsters held the Wildcats to a 22.9 percent shooting clip in the first half and built a 10-point halftime cushion that was too much for the Wildcats to overcome.

Head Coach Niya Butts: Not only has the Arizona playing roster seen its share of turnover, but the coaching staff is also entirely new for the 2008-09 season. On April 3, 2008, Niya Butts was named the 8th coach in the history of Arizona women’s basketball. Butts comes to Tucson after spending the last five seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky. During her time with the Wildcats, she helped guide the team to a 88-72 record (.550) that included three WNIT appearances and a berth in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

Prior to her time in Lexington, Butts was an assistant coach at Michigan State during the 2002-03 season. That year, the Spartans made their first NCAA appearance in six seasons after posting an overall record of 17-12. She began her coaching career at Tennessee Tech, leading the Golden Eaglettes to back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference regular season titles in 2001 and 2002. Butts is one of many head coaches in the NCAA ranks who played for the legendary Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee, graduating in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in social work and a minor in psychology. A four-year letterwinner with the Lady Vols, Butts was a two-time NCAA champion (1997, 1998), three-time winner of the SEC championship (1998, 1999, 2000) and was chosen the SEC Defensive Player of the Year after her 1997 freshman campaign. She also excelled in the classroom and was three times named an Academic All-SEC selection (1998, 1999, 2000).

The Rest of the Staff
Sue Darling (Arizona ‘83): A former player at UA, Darling returns to the Old Pueblo to begin her 24th season in coaching. She has made coaching stops at the Air Force Academy, Northwestern, Dartmouth, Arizona State and with the Seattle Reign of the ABL. Darling was most recently the head girls’ basketball coach at Mullen High School in Denver, Colo.

Brandy Manning (Clark Atlanta ‘02): The relative youngster of the staff, Manning is one of the most aggressive recruiters in the women’s game today. Serving as the recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats, Manning spent last season at the University of Central Florida. He also has coaching experience from Murray State and the University of Louisville.

Chance Lindley (Wichita State, ‘00): Rounding out the staff is Chance Lindley, who joins the Wildcats after spending the 2007-08 season as the head coach at Barton County Community College. He led the Cougars to a 34-4 record and 4th place finish at the NJCAA championships. Lindley was instrumental in bringing shooting guard Ipek Turkyilmaz to Arizona as she was a key member of the Barton County team last season.

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 61-48 including the 3-3 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 has enjoyed a 7-2 ledger in the all-time series against the University of San Diego. The teams have not met for 12 years, however, with the Wildcats earning a 87-65 victory in San Diego back in December of 1996. The Wildcats have won the last three contests in the series and 6-of-7 dating back to the 1982-83 campaign.

Scouting the Toreros: San Diego enters tonight’s contest with a 6-3 overall record after earning back-to-back wins at BYU-Hawaii Tournament last weekend. The Toreros posted wins over NCAA Division I newcomer Utah Valley (81-70) and BYU-Hawaii (93-61). Kiva Herman led the Toreros with a 23.5 points per game average over the weekend and currently is averaging a team-leading 17.3 points to go along with 5.1 rebounds per contest. A member of the West Coast Conference, the Toreros were picked 3rd in the WCC Coaches Preseason Poll after advancing to the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last season.

Coast to Coast: The Wildcats have enjoyed a wealth of success against West Coast Conference teams over the years, compiling a 23-7 all-time record against the current members of the WCC. Arizona has a winning record against all eight members against which it has played with Gonzaga being the only team yet to appear on a Wildcat schedule over the years. The Cats own the best record against the Toreros at 7-2 and are undefeated against four foes.

Turn Back the Clock: Exactly 15 years ago, the Wildcats were in action, but this time against a different team from San Diego. On December 11, 1993, Arizona posted a 63-58 win over San Diego State in Peterson Gymnasium, the former home of the Aztecs. Shawn Coder led a balanced scoring attack that day with 15 points. Despite committing 19 turnovers that day, the Wildcats converted 20-of-23 free throws and held a 5-point halftime advantage through to the end of the game. Arizona is 4-2 all-time in games played on December 11.

Injury Update: Just when the Wildcats thought they were inching closer to what they would have to accept as full strength, another injury has set the team back. Courtney Clements shook off the rust from her time on the sideline and had 21 points against Louisiana Tech, but fellow freshman Jhakia McDonald missed her second-straight game. McDonald has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in her right foot and will likely be out 6-7 weeks. Malia Nahinu, who has been battling through a similar injury, is finally out of her walking boot and begins her rehab this week with a target return of the early part of Pac-10 play next month.

Clement Time: Freshman guard Courtney Clements proved the old adage that the third time is the charm as she displayed the scoring ability the Arizona coaching staff had expected from her in the third game of her collegiate career. After coming off the bench against both Texas A&M and Midlde Tennessee, Clements made her first collegiate start and shared game-high scoring honors with 21 points. Clements, who had scored a total of 10 points in her first two games, connected on 9-of-21 shots against the Lady Techsters, including her first career three-pointer, to boost her scoring average to 10.3 points per game.

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. Twelve times this season an Arizona player has logged at least 40 minutes of action in one of the games. Ashley Frazier leads the way as she has played all 40 minutes on five occasions, including a 53-minute log during the triple-overtime win against Loyola Marymount, and is averaging 39.1 minutes per contest. Jhakia McDonald (36.8), Reiko Thomas (36.4) and Amina Njonkou (34.3) are all logging heavy minutes in their starting roles for the Wildcats.

Free Throw Findings: One place the Wildcats have shown an improvement through the first six games of 2008-09 versus last season is at the free throw line. After connecting at a .652 clip one season ago, the Cats currently own a 71.3 percent free throw percentage as a team. Njonkou, Thomas and Frazier are all shooting over 80 percent. The Cats have also limited the opportunities of the opposition, making just one less free throw (102) than the opposition has attempted (103).

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 six 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: The rebounding prowess has remained intact through most of the first fifth of the season as the Wildcats have outrebounded the opposition in six of the first seven contests. The Cats are averaging 43 rebounds per game while allowing the opposition 36.4 rebounds each game. The 6.5 rebounding margin the Wildcats have enjoyed is good enough for 50th in the NCAA and 6th in Pac-10, a stat led both locally and nationally by UCLA at 20.1.

National Notables: Speaking of the NCAA statistics, Ibekwe is tops in the Pac-10 and is currently 10th in the NCAA in rebounds per game at 11.4, almost one full rebound ahead of her sister, Chinyere, who is a senior at UCLA and is averaging 10.6 per game. Njonkou is also among the top 100 nationally at 8.4 rebounds per game. As a team, the Wildcats are also 81st in free throw shooting at 71.3 percent.

Topping the Charts: Twice this season and three times this calendar year two different Wildcats have had an individual rebounding effort that has ranked as one of the best in program history. Beatrice Bofia was the first to do so, pulling down 18 boards against Oregon State back on January 3 in Corvallis. This season, Ibekwe has already twice etched her name among the top 10 all-time. She opened the season with 18 boards against Toledo, then grabbed 19 rebounds in a home victory against UC Santa Barbara.

Unlucky Number 18: Despite the impressive individual outings by Ibekwe and Bofia in their 18-rebound efforts, the Wildcats came up on the losing end of each contest. However, the Cats made amends a week later by earning the win against UC Santa Barbara with the 19 rebounds tallied by Ibekwe. Including the other 10 games listed in the graphic above, the Wildcats are a perfect 4-0 when an Arizona player has at least 19 rebounds and 5-4 with a player tallying 18 rebounds.

Around the Clock: In all seven games the Wildcats have played this season, one team or the other has jumped out to a considerable lead in the opening minutes. In four of those contests, the Wildcats came racing out of the gates, but have won just two of the four contests. However, the Cats have also dug a deep hole on three occasions and managed an impressive comeback to earn the triple-overtime victory against Loyola Marymount. The Wildcats have managed to play their opponents to within 7 points in the first half, but their lack of depth has hurt them in the second half, trailing 222-202 in total points scored.

Turn It Over: One area the Wildcats need to show some quick improvement is in the turnover column. The Wildcats are giving the ball away an average of 22.3 times per contest. They turned the ball over a season-high 29 times in the loss to Middle Tennessee, allowing the Blue Raiders to score 33 points off of those Arizona miscues. Having turned the ball over 43 more times than its opponents, the Wildcats have also been hurt on the offensive end with 48 fewer field goal attempts.

Dial 3: Three-point shooting continues to be a point of weakness for the Wildcats through the first six games of the season. As a team, the Cats have connected on just 14 three-point shots, an average of just two per game, while the opposition is averaging over six made three-pointers per game.

No Foul Play: One area on the stat sheet that does seem to be falling in the favor of the Wildcats is personal fouls. The Cats have committed just 111 fouls through 7 games with only two foul-outs. That total is 3rd in the Pac-10 and 52nd in the NCAA, calculating to a 15.9 per game average. The propensity not to foul as well as their solid conversion rate at the free throw line has helped the Wildcats make up for the 12 points lost per game in the three-point battle. The Cats are currently making five more free throws per game than the opposition.

Up and In: Though Arizona has struggled from the field the last three games, the Wildcats can look to the frontcourt for some solid shooting percentages. Ify Ibekwe continues to lead the team with a .523 field goal percentage while Amina Njonkou is an even .500 (34-of-68) in her shooting. Beatrice Bofia has also come off the bench to give the Wildcats 17 made field goals in 38 tries, calculating to a respectable .447 clip.

Shooting Slump: Whether it be due to a step up in competition or just a period of struggles, the Wildcats have had a hard time putting the ball in the basket over the past three contests. Arizona has made just 53-of-163 (.325) in its current three-game losing streak while also hitting on just 3-of-28 (.107) attempts from three-point range. On the other hand, during a 3-1 start to the season, the Wildcats shot .443 (102-of-230) from the field and made 11 three-pointers.

Break Out: While the Wildcats have struggled over the last three games, they can take heart in the fact that they have played some of their best basketball here inside the McKale Center. Despite the loss to highly-ranked Texas A&M, the Arizona defense had arguably its best game of the season in limiting the Aggies to 54 points. The Wildcats also held UC Santa Barbara to just 47 points and raced out to a comfortable double-digit lead before setting for the 7-point margin.

Dishing It Up: Junior point guard Ashley Frazier recorded a career-best 8 assists on Saturday evening in the loss to Louisiana Tech. Frazier leads the Wildcats in assists with 30, good for an average of almost 4.5 per contest. Her tally also ranks her among the Pac-10 elite as she sits in 4th place in the league, less than one full assist behind league-leader Briann January of Arizona State.

Simply The Best: The Wildcats will have their hands full this season as they play a challenging 29-game regular season schedule. Looking at the most recent polls released this past week, the Wildcats are set to play seven games against teams ranked in the top 25. The Cats have two games each against #3/4 Stanford, #9/6 California and #22/21 Arizona State during Pac-10 play after having already gone toe-to-toe with #4/5 Texas A&M. The Cats have also played Middle Tennessee, a team that is off to a 5-1 start and has received votes several times already this season.
NOTE: All coaches poll references are listed with the Associated Press poll first followed by the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.

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 93 points in three games to run her total to 784. Her current scoring average of 13.3 per game would push her over the 1,000-point mark in 17 more games, or in a televised game on February 15 at USC.

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 maintain 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. This season, she has pushed that mark to 11.4 per game through the first fifth of the season, an average that would leave her at 339 through 29 games and match the single-season record set by Shawntinice Polk in 2003-04.

Up Next: The Wildcats are back in action here in the McKale Center on Sunday against Long Beach State in a matinee tip-off scheduled for 2 p.m. The Wildcats will wrap up their pre-Christmas program next Wednesday, December 17 with a game against UC Riverside, also scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

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