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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Big decisions

    Big decisions

    In today’s professional sports world, the term “”contract season”” often defines the long-term careers of coaches and players, judged from crucial performances throughout the closely-examined year.

    Such a similar effect translates down from pro franchises to NCAA programs, where athletic directors receive the pressure to determine a university’s sports investments. With one year remaining on UA head coach Joan Bonvicini’s contract, the Arizona women’s basketball team faces serious questions after yet another frustrating season of turmoil.

    Arizona (10-20, 4-15 Pacific 10 Conference) broke the 20-loss barrier for its third straight season under Bonvicini, the program’s winningest coach. In that stretch, the Wildcats have a dismal 29-63 record due to injuries, player suspensions and transfers.

    With the most recent suspension of one of the program’s best players – senior Ashley Whisonant was withheld from the Pac-10 Conference Tournament after walking out of a team practice, multiple sources told the Arizona Daily Wildcat – the Wildcats ended the season with a 31-point showing, the lowest in school history.

    Such a downfall since the last NCAA tournament appearance in 2005 prompts inquiry on the program’s crossroads, with one year remaining on Bonvicini’s $139,000 per year salary – the Pac-10’s lowest.

    Questions regarding the future of Arizona’s 17-year head coach will be answered soon, as athletics director Jim Livengood will sit down with Bonvicini early next week for his standard end-of-season meeting.

    “”It’s the same thing I hope to accomplish every time, and that is going through, ‘Let’s talk about our season, let’s talk about the program and let’s talk about where we are,’ “” Livengood said yesterday. “”Until we do that, nothing has changed.””

    Livengood did not elaborate on the program’s future, citing a necessary meeting with Bonvicini before any decisions could be made.

    “”At this point in time, I want to have that conversation,”” Livengood said. “”I don’t want to be out ahead of something that I shouldn’t be out ahead of. Joan and I will sit down, have that conversation, and then we’ll be very clear.””

    One certainty in Arizona’s future comes from the emergence of freshmen leaders Tasha Dickey and Ify Ibekwe. Throughout the year, the two slowly emerged as a well-respected pair of teammates rather than just a couple of freshmen.

    Ibekwe finished the regular season leading the team in rebounds per game (7.9) and blocked shots (28) while averaging 10 points per game. More importantly, the Carson, Calif., native started in 12 games and finished the season scoring double digits in seven of her last nine games.

    Taking a similar leadership role, Dickey started in 20 games and averaged 7 ppg in the regular season.

    Dickey and Ibekwe believe the season’s chaos helped the team end with a strong nucleus – an intangible the squad lacked all season.

    “”We had to not be freshmen in many situations,”” Ibekwe said. “”It’s an experience I wouldn’t take back no matter what – it only made me stronger to this day.

    “”I feel that the situation we’re in now, even though it looks bad, I think it’ll get better,”” Ibekwe added.

    Dickey doesn’t believe the blame for this season’s roller coaster should rest on Bonvicini’s shoulders. With her father, Charlie, as an offensive line coach for the University of Utah football team, Dickey knows “”the crap he gets”” for underperforming seasons, she said.

    Rather, the blame deserves to be put on unmotivated players, Dickey said.

    “”I think our coaching staff did the very best they could,”” Dickey said. “”If someone doesn’t want to be on that court, you can’t make them go out there and do what they need to do.””

    As sophomores next season, both Ibekwe and Dickey said they can form a bridge connecting the incoming freshmen with the seniors – understanding both aspects of a newcomer’s role and veteran leadership role.

    With knowledge of both situations, Ibekwe will be ready to mentor the next generation of Arizona basketball.

    “”I feel like whoever is coming in next year – they’re not about to mess up,”” Ibekwe said. “”They’re going to grow up and I will be there for them as a sister, friend and teammate. We as a team, we need that.””

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