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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    W-Hoops says aloha to new season

    UA guard Jhakia McDonald plays defense against Oklahoma Panhandle on  Nov. 4 in McKale Center. The Wildcats took the exhibition game 85-33 and are slated to begin their season in Hawaii today at 3, local time.
    UA guard Jhakia McDonald plays defense against Oklahoma Panhandle on Nov. 4 in McKale Center. The Wildcats took the exhibition game 85-33 and are slated to begin their season in Hawaii today at 3, local time.

    With all the hype and the anticipation that has mounted since April, the Niya Butts era is finally about to begin for women’s basketball.

    The Wildcats tip off the season at the Hawaii Tournament tonight against Toledo for their first of three games in Hilo, Hawaii.

    With her first preseason as a head coach now under her belt, Butts said she is very pleased with how things have gone so far.

    “”I’ve seen a team that has worked hard and responded to a challenge,”” Butts said of her inexperienced, yet talented team. “”The coaches and I have challenged these girls to come out and work hard every day, and they’ve done a really nice job so far.””

    In its lone preseason game against Oklahoma Panhandle State, Arizona took the floor with an unconventional starting lineup. They ran a 2-3, which features two forwards and three guards. Most basketball teams, both men’s and women’s, operate out of a 3-2, which is three forwards and two guards.

    Part of the reason for this formation is the bounty of talented guards on the roster. Junior point guard Ashley Frazier fronts a backcourt that will see action from several players, especially freshman standout Reiko Thomas.

    Another reason for the formation is the potential dominance of the team’s forwards. Senior Amina Njonkou and sophomore Ify Ibekwe, the starting forwards in the 85-33 exhibition victory, showed the ability to grab both offensive and defensive rebounds with authority, as well play shut down defense.

    In addition to those two, seniors Sarah Hays and Beatrice Bofia were extremely effective coming off the bench, giving Butts the luxury of frequent substitutions to keep the Wildcats fresh and opponents on their toes.

    The ability to rely on her bench and not put the onus on the five starters is something Butts knows is essential and will not take for granted.

    “”Basketball is a team sport,”” Butts said. “”We need to be able to count on everyone to contribute, whether they are on the floor at a given time or not. I thought everybody gave a great effort (during the exhibition game) and I expect everyone to be ready to contribute during ball games.””

    One factor that went into creating the starting lineup is the dreaded injury bug that swept through the Wildcat’s preseason.

    Freshman center Malia Nahinu is out for 6-7 more weeks with a stress fracture in her foot, and freshman guard Courtney Clements will miss at least this weekend’s tournament with a leg injury. Sophomore guard Tasha Dickey has also been ruled out of the tournament with a nagging leg injury.

    The current injuries, as well as the inevitable future injuries and the uncertainty of how a young and inexperienced roster will play, are all parts of the equation that will formulate Butts’ ever-changing roster this season.

    “”We aren’t the type of team that can beat someone every night (in) one way,”” Butts said. “”Sometimes we will have two forwards on the floor, sometimes we will have three. We are going to go with whatever we believe will help us win.

    “”It’s unfortunate that we’ve had some injuries, because who knows what impact they would have made so far,”” she added. “”It will basically come down to whoever will help us win in a given situation.””

    Thomas, a two-time California All-State selection, scored a game-high 20 points in the exhibition and figures to be a focal point of the offense.

    “”I thought we played really well (in the exhibition),”” Thomas said, trying to catch her breath after playing 39 of 40 minutes. “”We’ve worked really hard on executing this preseason and it showed.””

    The focal point of the preseason, other than hustling, was to maximize their efficiency on the court, Butts said.

    “”Offensively, we need to work on shooting the basketball,”” Butts said. “”But even the best offensive teams have off nights. For those nights when we aren’t shooting well, we need to be able to limit our turnovers and maintain ball control.””

    Butts knows, however, that the key to success is on the other side of the court.

    “”We need to play good defense,”” Butts said. “”Defense and rebounding wins ball games, offense sells tickets.””

    As far as this weekend goes, the team is just happy to finally play some meaningful games against a team wearing different colors.

    “”I can’t wait to play against someone else,”” Thomas said. “”We are going to play against some really good competition this year, and it’s a challenge we are looking forward to.””

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