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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Injuries and roster size may no longer impede Arizona women’s basketball success

Rebecca Noble

Arizona guard Keyahndra Cannon (15) shoots while playing Oregon State in McKale Center on Jan. 23. Cannon is the only senior on Arizona’s roster this season and one of three returning starters.

Arizona women’s basketball is ready to kick off its regular season on the road against Toledo on Saturday, aiming to finish far better than the past few years.

“We have people coming back from last year’s team, but we also have new bodies from freshmen,” Arizona women’s head coach Niya Butts said. “We have people who were out last year and didn’t play due to injuries or not being on the roster for whatever reason. I like our team and I like our roster. I don’t like them every single day, but I like them more days than I don’t.”

Butts has compiled a measly 79-108 overall career record in seven years of coaching at Arizona after graduating from Tennessee and playing four seasons under Pat Summit from 1996-2000.

Last year’s team finished with an overall record of 10-20, including 3-15 in the Pac-12 Conference. This year’s Wildcats, however, come in with more experience and a healthier squad.

Arizona did somewhat well last season in staying above .500 at home (8-7 record) when compared to its away record of 2-11. So the Wildcats will lean on more consistent play at home while trying to improve their road competitiveness and ability to win outside of McKale Center.

New season, new faces

The Wildcats are returning three starters: LaBrittney Jones, Malena Washington and Keyahndra Cannon, but lost two key pieces in Candice Warthen and Alli Gloyd. The team also welcomes four newcomers to the roster: Michal Miller, Eugenie Simonet-Keller, Destiny Graham and A’Shanti Coleman.

Simonet-Keller, the 6-foot-8 freshman from Le Biot, France, is the second-tallest player in the Pac-12.

This new-look Wildcats team, however, will still lean on its veterans to lead the way back to relevance.

“I’m a big leader on this team and have actually been chosen as one of the captains,” Jones said. “I take that role very personally and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help the team out.”

Jones represented the Wildcats at Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day in California. She averaged nine points and almost six rebounds per game last season, but will surely take a larger role in the offense this year.

A team sport

The Wildcats are forming a strong bond as a team. Each player has come in looking to contribute right away.

“I think that I have a lot to do with our improvement and just helping everybody along,” junior forward Breanna Workman said. “I think that there is a lot I can bring to the table with helping other people. I will do whatever coach Butts needs me to do to get the job done.”

Just stay healthy

Injury prevention will be the main focus for the team in the coming weeks. Injuries plagued team performance and constantly disrupted the Wildcats’ focus last season. Arizona also returns redshirt freshman guard Taryn Griffey this year, who did not play all last season due to injury.

Arizona was picked during media day to finish last in the Pac-12 this year. While Butts surely has not had as much success in terms of wins and losses at Arizona as she may have hoped for, the players are confident in the intensity that she brings. In fact, it’s the main reason why Arizona picked up a transfer.

“Just [Butts’] energy and the person she is,” said Lauren Evans, the transfer redshirt junior guard from Virginia Tech. “She really cares about every individual player down the line and I thought that was a great positive. I know it was where I wanted to be and she would be somebody I [would] work for.”

With many opponents possibly overlooking the Wildcats this season, Arizona has a lot to prove.

Follow Matt Wall on Twitter.

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