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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Defense keys Wildcat victory

    UA forward Ify Ibekwe hoists up a shot during a 54-47 UA win over UC-Santa Barbara Sunday afternoon in McKale Center.
    UA forward Ify Ibekwe hoists up a shot during a 54-47 UA win over UC-Santa Barbara Sunday afternoon in McKale Center.

    Arizona 54, UC Santa Barbara 47

    Before the season started, Arizona women’s basketball head coach Niya Butts emphatically stated that while offense sells tickets, defense is what wins games.

    It’s pretty clear that her team got that message.

    The Wildcats (3-1) out-hustled the Lady Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara (1-2) en route to a hard-fought 54-47 win Sunday afternoon in McKale Center.

    Leading the way for Arizona was sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe, who was a driving force throughout the entire game, dominating both the offensive and defensive boards.

    “”I knew that I had to stop their post players,”” Ibekwe said. “”We did a nice job on the post, and our guards did a great job of boxing out.””

    The Lady Gauchos struggled to find an answer to Ibekwe, and she took advantage by scoring 15 points and grabbing 19 rebounds, both game-highs.

    “”That’s called will,”” Butts said of Ibekwe’s career-high 19 rebounds. “”Ify has the ability to do that every night, and we’re very pleased with her.””

    Arizona’s defense set the tempo in the beginning of the game, allowing UC Santa Barbara little penetration and holding it to just 10 points and 16.7 percent shooting in the first half.

    But despite the defense’s dominance, the Wildcat offense struggled to find its rhythm and had difficulty putting the game away.

    “”We got a lot of looks that we wanted, we just weren’t able to knock down shots,”” Butts said. “”The offense sometimes won’t be there, and sometimes offensively the shots will not fall. That’s why you play defense and that’s why you rebound. I think that’s what saved us.””

    With three minutes left in the first half and the game still in limbo, Ibekwe covered the length of the court to block what would have been an easy fast-break layup. Seconds later, freshman Reiko Thomas nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to deliver the dagger that Arizona had been looking for.

    With momentum firmly in hand, the Wildcats came firing out of the gate in the second half, thanks in large part to Thomas.

    “”I thought we played really well today,”” Thomas said. “”We did a lot better job defensively, we executed on offense, and we limited our turnovers.””

    Thomas, the team’s most prominent scorer, was held in check in the first half. The Lady Gauchos clearly came into the game trying to limit her shots, and her first-half production was minimal.

    However, Thomas came out in the second half on a mission, finding holes in the defense on her way to 11 points.

    “”Coach Butts was really getting on me (to score more),”” Thomas said. “”I didn’t have a lot of touches in the first half, but we set up a lot of screens that gave me some open shots in the second half.””

    Then, about halfway through the second half, it became clear just how vital Ibekwe is to this Wildcat team.

    When it seemed that Arizona had put the game away for good, Ibekwe committed her third foul and Butts was forced to take her out of the game.

    In what seemed like the blink of an eye, UC Santa Barbara took advantage of Ibekwe being on the bench and brought the game to within 7 points.

    Ibekwe then returned to the game and hit two perfect free throws with just more than a minute remaining, putting the game away.

    “”I think everybody played well down the stretch, especially Ify,”” Butts said. “”We challenge them to follow the game plan and look at our scouting report, and they did a good job of that.””

    The victory was not only a relief, but something of a surprise to Butts.

    “”During shoot-around, I wasn’t so sure (if the team would win),”” said Butts. “”Sometimes our focus isn’t where I want it to be. I expect us to have a high sense of awareness and high focus, and sometimes it isn’t where it needs to be. They proved me wrong, though, and they continue to prove me wrong everyday and I like that.””

    Now at 3-1, the Wildcats are off to their best start since the 2004-2005 season. However, it’s all the same to Butts.

    “”Anytime you get a W you’re happy,”” Butts said. “”I’m one of those coaches that likes to see improvement, but what I really like is to win.””

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