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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    W-hoops shows signs of progress

    Liam Foley/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

February 7. 2009:  The University of Arizona womens basketball team defeats the University of Oregon 68-44 in Tucson, AZ at the McKale Memorial Center.
    Liam Foley/ Arizona Daily Wildcat February 7. 2009: The University of Arizona women’s basketball team defeats the University of Oregon 68-44 in Tucson, AZ at the McKale Memorial Center.

    The season has come to a close for Arizona women’s basketball, ending the first year of the Niya Butts era and the Wildcats’ rebuilding process. Although Butts and her new program brought many questions to the court, she has put in place the necessary steps to return Arizona to one of the premier programs in women’s college basketball.

    “”When our season is over, my hope will be that we can stand there as a team, as a staff, and look each other in the eyes and say that we did everything we could to make this year what it was,”” Butts said at the end of the preseason.

    Although their record doesn’t reflect much success, the UA certainly gained a lot from Butts’ first season on the bench.

    Arizona attempted to make the most of its season, navigating a series of roadblocks including a recurring injury bug and the disqualification of junior Ipek Turkyilmaz due to eligibility issues. Their challenging schedule and a host of new players, presented the Wildcats with a tough start to the regular season.

    November was particularly cruel to the Wildcats as the news that sophomore Tasha Dickey did not play due to a season-ending ankle surgery. Dickey started 21 games and earned Pacific 10 Conference All-Freshmen Team honorable mention accolades in her first season for Arizona.

    The setbacks for Arizona forced the growth of the new additions to its roster. Five freshmen, all from California, joined the Wildcats on the court. The dual task of getting these players ready for college action and implementing a new system was a tall order for Butts and her staff.

    The way Arizona navigated the journey through its season showed the squad’s heart and determination – two factors that made the Wildcats difficult to play despite their record.

    Arizona began as a streaky team, putting up a three-game win streak before falling to Texas A&M. Although their wins showed promise, the Wildcats knew it would be a fight to make the season beneficial to the program.

    “”We have grown and matured as a team on the floor. Early in the season when our backs were against the wall, we would let down,”” forward Ify Ibekwe said. “”Now we fight and think much better on the floor.””

    The Wildcats would again slide to below the .500 mark before giving new life to their season with a four-game win streak preceding Pac-10 play.

    Offensive droughts and a low shooting percentage throughout the season downed the Wildcats in their attempt to add tallies to the win column.

    As their season developed, the team seemed more synergized with each game. Although the losses continued, including a seven-game skid to begin Pac-10 play, Arizona’s energy and fight grew as the end of the season approached. Their last two regular-season losses by a total of six points, against two Top 10 teams, Stanford and California, showed that the Wildcats had the potential to play with the elite programs.

    Ibekwe, a sophomore, continued to shine as Arizona’s centerpiece on the court. Ibekwe led the Wildcats in scoring with 15.7 points per game, and racked up honors throughout the season. She was recognized as the U.S. Bank Pac-10 Women’s Basketball Player of the Week on Dec. 15, named to the Naismith Watch List and earned a spot on the All-Pac-10 First Team and the All-Defensive Team.

    Freshman guard Courtney Clements also distinguished herself this year despite her injury at the beginning of the season. In the 27 games she played, she also averaged in double-digit points and made the Pac-10 All-Freshmen Team.

    Arizona’s intensity continued to climb toward the end of the season and into Pac-10 tournament play. Although the record does not reflect an ideal season for the Wildcats, the team is focused and knows what to work on in the off-season.

    “”This off-season, I know I need to work on my ball handling and getting in the best shape I can,”” Clements said. “”It was difficult to be injured and then try to come back. We need to get to work and get back in the gym this off-season and work on our deficiencies.””

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