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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

5 Questions for the Arizona women’s basketball team

1. Will Arizona be a surprise in the Pac-10?

Picked by the media to finish ninth in the Pacific 10 Conference, the Arizona women’s basketball team seemingly has nowhere to go but up. This year, it has the pieces in place to turn some heads in the Pac-10. Sure, the usual suspects are primed for a run at the conference title, with ASU and California both ranked in early polls, and all roads for the Pac-10 crown lead through Palo Alto, Calif., where Stanford sits at No. 2. But fourth place and beyond is anybody’s game this year. If Arizona can find a way to master its uptempo offense by consistently reducing its turnovers on that side of the ball, it can keep up with any team offensively. With an uncontested All-American like Ify Ibekwe on the court and several new threats like Brooke Jackson and Davellyn Whyte, I see Arizona taking advantage of the opportunity to prove some of the pre-season doubters wrong.

 

2. How does the bench depth change the team dynamic?

Head coach Niya Butts brought in six new players this year, and they all bring something to the table, making this team rich in depth. The ability of the coaching staff to keep players rested without the consequences of a scoring drought is a huge asset to any team, and one that makes this team so compelling.

“”We definitely have players who can score the basketball,”” Butts said. “”As a coach, it gives you an array of options, and you enjoy that on the sidelines not having to work too hard, because we know we have players who can put the ball in the hole.””

The depth has been evident in the early part of the season already, as when Reiko Thomas led the Wildcats in scoring against Miami (Ohio) by coming off the bench to score 17. A fresh set of five who can score late in the game is a huge advantage for Arizona and a deep bench is crucial to the success of a promised “”run and gun”” style of offense this year.

 

3. Who will become the face of Arizona women’s basketball?

Ibekwe is the leading candidate for becoming the face of this team. What the junior forward brings to the court day-in and day-out cannot be taken for granted. The ability to score and rebound while keeping up with an offense that likes to push the ball is rare, and Ibekwe’s accolades entering her third year are well deserved. If there is a player who might take over Ibekwe’s role as the face of the team, hyped freshman Davellyn Whyte seems to be the obvious choice.

“”I’m speechless about Davellyn,”” Butts said after Whyte’s MVP performance at the Iona Tip-Off Tournament. “”She’s taken the leadership role and taken ownership in the team. She’s doing a lot that can be expected of a senior or a junior, not a freshman. She’s just got a great feel for the game.””

If Whyte continues to show the tangible development that she has demonstrated in her early career at Arizona, look for her to be one of the best players in the Pac-10 soon.

4. Will the change in style of play be enough to get Arizona back to the NCAA tournament?

Getting a team with six new players to the Big Dance would be a major accomplishment, and it is hard to expect that result in the tough conference that Arizona plays in. That said, the 2009 Wildcats seem motivated to make some noise with their change in offensive play. Not only is it fun to watch, but it is hard to defend against when it is properly executed. With pre-season No. 19 Georgia Tech on the schedule in Atlanta, Ga., later in the year, that game will be a litmus test for the offense. Will it be able to operate against elite teams? What are its limits? When teams take the fast break away, how will Arizona respond? These are all million-dollar questions that will ultimately determine how far the 2009 Wildcats go, and only the games will provide the answers.

5. Can Butts really change the culture of Arizona basketball?

It’s hard to say whether being a school where the men’s basketball program has been dominant for 25 years is a blessing or a curse for the women’s team. Most of the attention and publicity is spent on the men’s squad, but Butts has shown an effort to make the women’s team part of the basketball conversation. She has shown the ability to bring in elite personnel and is reaping the benefits of that ability early with the impacts of Davellyn Whyte and Brooke Jackson. To change the culture of a program, you have to build from the bottom up, and Butts seems to acknowledge the importance of that. At a certain point, however, the team has to produce results on the court. Winning breeds excitement around campus and brings the spotlight to the program. The team has already shown that it has taken steps in the right direction under the guidance of Butts. She strives to make basketball more than just “”bouncing balls on the court”” and hopes to provide a memorable experience for all of her players during their four years at Arizona. Players have alluded to the sense of family that Butts has created, and consequently, that should translate into winning over the support of UA students.

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