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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Butts, Wildcats need to tighten up play as Pac-12 continues

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Rebecca Noble

Arizona women’s basketball coach Niya Butts looks on during Arizona’s 49-44 win against UAB on Dec. 14 in McKale Center. Butts and the Wildcats have lost four straight games.

With a 7-4 record heading into conference play, it looked like Arizona women’s basketball was on the verge of turning the corner. After all, the Wildcats had already surpassed their five-game win total of the previous season.

Then came two close losses to the Washington schools at home. The home stand was followed by an 88-41 defeat to ASU, also in Tucson.

When the UA traveled to Tempe this past Saturday, the margin was closer, but the outcome remained the same: another loss. In a matter of two weeks, all the good vibes had gone away.

The current reality is that the Wildcats sit at the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference standings with an 0-4 conference record. If it’s any solace, Utah and Colorado are right there with them.

Now the question becomes whether head coach Niya Butts can right the ship and lead Arizona out of the Pac-12 cellar — a task that should prove daunting but plausible.

In order for the Wildcats to jump to the middle of the pack, they will need to cut out the inconsistent play that has plagued them all season on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, Arizona does a solid enough job facilitating and finding the net, but it’s not a team that will scare opponents with its shooting. As a group, the UA is making less than 40 percent of its field goal attempts and lacks a true deep shooter.

Point guard Candice Warthen has consistently been the team’s leading scorer, and guard Malena Washington is finding her form as well.

However, the backcourt duo has committed more turnovers than assists, highlighting the major issue of the Wildcats’ offense. Arizona constantly forces itself into big holes by playing careless with the ball, which leads to easy scores for the opposition.

If, for example, Arizona had not committed 21 turnovers against the Sun Devils on Saturday, the UA might have been in a position to win at the end. Instead, ASU was able to capitalize by scoring 19 points off those turnovers and pulled away.  

Defensively, the Wildcats are liable to go Jekyll and Hyde from possession to possession.

Bolstered by a .259 3-point percentage defense that ranks second in the Pac-12 and No. 19 nationally, Arizona has no trouble defending jumpers. However, teams have repeatedly taken advantage of the UA’s lack of size by attacking the paint.

With no one on the roster above 6-foot-1, the Wildcats have trouble matching up against opposing centers. This forces them to play a bend-but-don’t-break type of defense down low, a strategy that is effective for only so long.

Even with a smaller group, the team has to put up a better fight in the post without getting into foul trouble.

Perhaps the best news for Arizona going forward is that the Pac-12 is in the midst of a down year. While ASU, Stanford and Oregon State are all ranked in the top 15, a major drop-off follows, particularly in the South division.

Both UCLA and USC are struggling, and Utah and Colorado are also 0-4 in conference play. Those four schools compose six of the UA’s remaining 14 games.

The Wildcats will have plenty of winnable games ahead, but they’ll need to execute better than they have been in order to come out victorious.

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Follow Ezra Amacher on Twitter.

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