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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Women’s hoops head to Pac-10 tournament

    The Arizona women’s basketball team has had this feeling before. The Wildcats finished the season as the No. 9 seed in the Pacific-10 Conference, a position they have occupied for the last two years.

    Arizona’s last two road losses put them in a first-round matchup with No. 8 seed Washington State, which has an identical record to the Wildcats. Their game is scheduled to begin at 8:15 p.m. on Thursday in the Galen Center in Los Angeles.

    “”I’m very anxious and excited,”” said freshmen Reiko Thomas. “”We’ve tried very hard the last couple of weeks. I think we’re ready to play our best basketball.””

    For the first time in two years, Arizona’s opponent is not Oregon State. In past two seasons, Arizona faced and defeated the Beavers, before being knocked out of the tournament by top-seeded Stanford.

    Although the Wildcats were unsucessful at recording wins in their last two games of the season, they did finish strong. After just failing to complete comebacks against two top-10 teams, California and Stanford, Arizona has shown it can be a team to be reckoned with. After rallying from double-digit deficits, Arizona lost to Stanford and Cal by a combined six points.

    “”I am very proud of how hard we fought and that we did not give up again, but it’s frustrating to come up on the short end,”” said UA head coach Niya Butts.

    Although close losses sting, they still bring confidence to the Arizona. With the return of its leading scorer, sophomore Ify Ibekwe, Arizona was able to keep the games close. In a tournament that operates in a do-or-die style, the Wildcats will hold nothing back.

    “”Right now going into the game, you know you’re the underdog, people expect for you not to win the game, so what else would you do but go out there and lay it all on the line?”” Butts said in an interview with local media.

    With nothing to lose, Arizona faces Washignton State, which earned its highest finish in the Pac-10 since the annual tournament launched in 2002. In the regular season series against the Cougars, Arizona lost both contests. Just two weeks ago, Arizona took on WSU at home. Ibekwe did not play due to a knee injury, and the lack of offensive production from the rest of the team gave the Cougars a single-season sweep.

    “”I think during those two games we just weren’t playing hard. We’re really fired up and excited about beating them when it really counts,”” Thomas said. “”We know that this time it could be the last game of the season, and especially for the seniors. I don’t think they would want to go out that way.””

    The Wildcats held a nine-point lead at half time and were shooting more than 50 percent in the first meeting, but second half offensive droughts stifled Arizona’s chances as it eventually fell to WSU 68-58.

    “”I want to win because of the way we played in the two games we had against them,”” said senior Amina Njonkou. “”This (Arizona) team is better than we played before. We’re ready to beat them and hopefully go on to win against Stanford.””

    As in past years, if Arizona beats WSU in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, it would once again face Stanford, the No. 1 seed. Although the road is tougher to climb, Butts likes that her team is seeded lower in the tournament.

    “”Right now people are probably overlooking you. They’re not looking for Arizona to come in and step in and play,”” Butts said, “”so (it’s) another chance to deliver a knockout punch.””

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