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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Butts’ unorthodox coaching moves key to recent wins by women’s hoops

    UA forward Amina Njonkou looks for an opening to the hoop during a 68-44 win over Oregon in McKale Center on Saturday. Njonkou has started in 72 of 91 games in her college career.
    UA forward Amina Njonkou looks for an opening to the hoop during a 68-44 win over Oregon in McKale Center on Saturday. Njonkou has started in 72 of 91 games in her college career.

    Saturday’s 68-44 victory over Oregon was hands-down the best game the Arizona women’s basketball team has played all season. The offense was firing on all cylinders and the defense was relentless. It was the game head coach Niya Butts waited for since she arrived in Tucson, and it happened because of some unorthodox moves.

    Inspiration behind defensive motor

    The Wildcats have always been an above-average defensive team, but thanks to a lack of offense they are forced to play on the defensive side more than on offense. Given the lack of depth on the roster, this causes the players on the floor to become fatigued, which leads to a lack of energy and hustle.

    It’s an all too familiar story. Against USC and UCLA the Wildcats had leads of 10 points or more, yet failed to hold onto the lead down the stretch. Suddenly, a defense that kept the team in the game for the first 35 minutes was the teams’ Achilles heel. Given the trend, the coaches realized that they needed to try something new.

    What was the new trick? Studying tennis star Serena Williams.

    “”Tennis players are always moving around, they’re always on their toes and they always get back to their set point and are ready to move again,”” Butts said. “”Basically we were trying to show them that that’s exactly how we want you to play defense.

    “”Trying to show them that you have to anticipate better, we have to move, we have to be active on our feet. We try to point out to them that when we’re on defense and in our zone, it’s basically like a tennis match.””

    When you think about it, the move was brilliant. It demonstrated exactly what the coaches were looking for from their players, but it did it in a way that escaped

    basketball. Too often athletes, especially at the Division I level, are drowned in their respective sport during the season that seeing something, even though it still teaches basketball, gives the players a refreshing perspective while still driving the point home.

    “”(The film of Serena Williams) showed us how she’s always on her toes and that’s what we wanted to work on,”” said senior forward Amina Njonkou. “”We were using our defense energy to provide energy on offense. It got us fired up.””

    Further lineup shuffling

    Butts and her staff have shuffled the team’s lineup on a regular basis lately.

    The three-guard, two-forward lineup the Wildcats used in the beginning of the season transformed into a more traditional two-guard, three-forward lineup halfway through the Pacific 10 Conference schedule.

    The changes, which put senior forward Sarah Hays on the floor in favor of freshman guard Courtney Clements, brought more energy and production off the bench and prompted the first Pac-10 win of the season.

    In Saturday’s game against Oregon, senior forward and captain Amina Njonkou, a starter in 72 of her 91 career games (including all 21 games of this season), was the most recent victim of Butts’ changes.

    “”We just needed to get some energy and production from the bench, and she sparked that for us,”” Butts said after the game.

    Njonkou scored a game-high 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.

    “”It was motivation for her,”” Butts said. “”She was very efficient out there. I thought she played very well.””

    Njonkou, in what can only be described as the ultimate team-first reaction, took the change in stride and went on to have one of the best games of her career.

    “”Coach told me she needed to bring me off the bench so I can sit and watch the game, get the flow of the game and then bring some energy off the bench,”” Njonkou said.

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