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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘A Dream Come True’

    Arizona womens basketball walk-on guard Ashley Gilpin looks to pass in Saturdays 67-54 loss to Washington State. Gilpin has filled a small role for the Wildcats this season, as starting out primarily as a practice squad player.
    Arizona women’s basketball walk-on guard Ashley Gilpin looks to pass in Saturday’s 67-54 loss to Washington State. Gilpin has filled a small role for the Wildcats this season, as starting out primarily as a practice squad player.

    The No. 31 jersey is the only Arizona women’s basketball uniform without a name on its back. But after an immense evolution from a minute-eating walk-on to a vital role player, senior Ashley Gilpin quickly made a name for herself.

    Gilpin might not write the headlines, highlight the box score or lead the Pacific 10 Conference on paper, but her one semester of work will leave UA head coach Joan Bonvicini with a tough name to forget.

    “”She is someone who’s given it up for the team,”” Bonvicini said. “”Here’s a kid who was able to live her dream, and to do it in a context in that she was a great teammate.

    “”She could’ve just said ‘I’m a senior…I’ve got other things I want to do in my life,'”” Bonvicini added.

    Basketball runs through the veins of the 5-foot-9 guard from Las Cruces, N.M. More than three years ago, the redhead freshman entered Tucson in a similar manner to most high school athletes – in search of a way to stay active in athletics. Gilpin began refereeing intramural basketball simply for the extra spending money while casually playing intramural games.

    As semesters passed, Gilpin advanced to refereeing high school and junior college basketball games on weekends – even with Bonvicini’s summer basketball camp – completely engaging herself in all aspects of the game.

    Yet still, another level irked.

    With one semester remaining in college, the ambitious Gilpin decided to reach for McKale rafters and try out for Bonvicini’s Wildcats.

    “”It just kind of shocked me that this kind of opportunity would be presented,”” Gilpin said. “”Being around basketball so much, I just understand it – the movements, where people are suppose to be, how you’re suppose to be. Having that background just sorta helps.””

    Such a deep knowledge helped enough to impress Bonvicini and earn a walk-on spot, she announced Jan. 11 – a time almost midway through the season on the eve of Arizona’s rigorous Pac-10 play.

    Gilpin joined

    She is someone who’s given it up for the team. Here’s a kid who was able to live her dream.

    – Joan Bonvicini,
    UA head coach

    the team with a familiar face sitting alongside her on the bench – UA guard Marie McGee played high school basketball at Mayfield (N.M.) High with Gilpin, which marked her last time playing on an organized basketball team. The four-year layover certainly affected her body, Gilpin said, but she overcame such soreness with a relentless attitude and natural instinct for the game.

    Gilpin began in January primarily as a practice player, but as injuries piled up, Gilpin’s set of fresh legs provided an opportunity to receive playing time and burn minutes and eventually work as a role player in the absence of guard Tasha Dickey (out due to an ankle injury).

    All Gilpin needed was nine minutes to introduce herself to the crowd in McKale Center. In the Jan. 31 win over Oregon, Gilpin checked into the game with 13:33 remaining in the first half. Minutes later, the energetic and eager guard scored her first career basket with a swoosh from just inside the arc.

    On Arizona’s next possession, Gilpin nailed down a layup to spark the crowd, break up a momentum-less game and force Oregon to call a timeout.

    The energy at McKale was unmatched throughout the rest of the season.

    “”That’s a moment I think she’ll remember for the rest of her life,”” Bonvicini said. “”I was just so proud of her and happy for her.””

    Said Gilpin on the shot heard around Tucson: “”I was open and I didn’t think about it. Once it fell through, it was exciting, but I didn’t really think too much about it.””

    It was that attitude that earned Gilpin a role-playing spot from that point onward. With more minutes increasing after each game, Gilpin still focuses on the basics – tenacious defense, awareness on offense and positive support – “”the little things,”” Bonvicini said. Though not always looking to score, Gilpin will still take the opportunity to shoot when presented.

    Through eight games, Gilpin averages 13.5 minutes per game and 2.8 points per game while shooting a team-best 58.8 percent from the field (10-for-17) and 40 percent from beyond the arc (2-for-5) – thanks to smart shots from open looks after moving without the ball on offense.

    On the defensive end, Gilpin never stops moving her feet, with her hands up nearly inches from her player often yelling “”Ball! Ball! Ball!””

    The majority of her career bests came Feb. 21 against Washington with seven points from three field goals in 25 minutes.

    “”I told Gilpin, she was my hero tonight after the game,”” said Bonvicini in the post game press conference. “”The girl played with incredible heart. …We played her more minutes tonight and I’m very proud of her.””

    Said guard Ashley Whisonant on Gilpin’s crucial arrival: “”She’s done an unbelievable job. I don’t even consider her a walk-on anymore – she’s just a teammate now.””

    “”They’re not looking for 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) from me, just solid defense, don’t turn the ball over – what role players are supposed to do,”” said Gipin on her role with the team, a role player status that most walk-ons never reach.

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