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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcats have a lot to look forward to in upcoming season with much potential

Arizona+forward+LaBrittney+Jones+%2824%29+bypasses+Stanford+forward+Erica+McCall+%2824%29+while+making+a+jump+shot+in+McKale+Center+on+Feb.+8.+Jones+returns+for+her+junior+season+as+a+veteran+leader+for+a+determined+Wildcat+team.
Angeline Carbajal

Arizona forward LaBrittney Jones (24) bypasses Stanford forward Erica McCall (24) while making a jump shot in McKale Center on Feb. 8. Jones returns for her junior season as a veteran leader for a determined Wildcat team.

Arizona women’s basketball head coach Niya Butts’ squad was picked to finish last in the conference this season at Pac-12 Conference media day. The Wildcats are coming off a dismal season where they finished 10-20, including seven-game and five-game losing streaks.

However, don’t quit on these Wildcats before the season even starts.

The eight-season Arizona head coach was a Lady Vol at Tennessee from 1996-2000, where she won back-to-back national titles in 1997 and 1998 under the great Pat Summit. Butts has been one of the most successful coaches with Arizona women’s basketball and boasts 11 returning players this season.

Butts isn’t paying too much attention to last year’s outcome.

“I think you have to try and go with a clean slate,” Butts said. “You try not to talk about it at all, but you obviously have to revisit it at some point. If you don’t know what your history was, you’re doomed to repeat it.”

The question is, why would returning a bunch of players from a team that underperformed be a reason for optimism? Well, the obvious answer would be experience.

Last year’s team was young and struggled, but they had some great moments—most notably a 60-57 upset over No. 12 Stanford in McKale Center.

Candice Warthen, one of the most decorated players in school history, graduated after last season. Butts said the team will have to fill that hole with a committee-style approach.

“I like our group,” Butts said. “So far, I think people have started to show what they can really do, and so we’re looking forward to getting the season going.”

The Wildcats do return junior forward LaBrittney Jones, who started in 17 of the Wildcats 31 games last season.

Butts has a few areas where she’d like to see Jones improve upon, however.

“More leadership, getting better and stronger,” Butts said. “Getting her knees right and getting her body healthy. We put a lot of minutes on our freshmen and sophomores over the last couple of years just because we didn’t have numbers. Now, I think this summer, she used that to really work on strengthening her body and just getting better.”

Butts has a lot of expectations for Jones as the season opener draws closer, and for good reason. Jones led the team in field goal percentage (42.8), rebounds (5.7) and blocks (1.5) per game a year ago.

“I expect her to be on the floor and offer us her rebounding ability and [ability] to score the basketball, but also, she has to be able to lead our team,” Butts said.

With so many returners and a fresh start, expect the Wildcats to come out looking to prove others wrong.

“Just to recognize where we are and the position we put ourselves in and take that and run with it,” sophomore guard JaLea Bennett said of the team’s mindset. “We have to come into the gym with a chip on our shoulder, because we have a point to prove. We have to prove people wrong.”

Still, it makes sense as to why the other conference coaches chose Arizona to finish last this season, especially after last year.

“I didn’t expect them to pick us anywhere else,” Butts said. “I mean, that’s what we showed last year. We have people coming back from last year’s team, but we also have new bodies. I feel good about that. I like our team, and I like our roster.”


Follow Kyle Hansen on Twitter.


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