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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    W-hoops wins exhibition

    Arizona forward Amina Njonkou (32) takes a shot during last nights 76-70 exhibition win over Vanguard in McKale Center. Njonkou scored 16 points and grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds.
    Arizona forward Amina Njonkou (32) takes a shot during last night’s 76-70 exhibition win over Vanguard in McKale Center. Njonkou scored 16 points and grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds.

    The Arizona women’s basketball season debuted its latest season with a pre-game highlight reel showcasing a barrage of intimidating layups, fierce game faces and the lyrics, “”The future is here at last.””

    How appropriate, as rigorous preseason preparation translated into a fast, thrilling 76-70 exhibition win over Vanguard last night in McKale Center.

    Freshman guard Tasha Dickey knocked down a momentum-swinging 3-pointer with 3:43 remaining to put Arizona up 65-64 and in control of the game.

    Guard Ashley Whisonant’s 22 points led Arizona’s explosive, fast-paced offense through a dramatic second half of back-and-forth lead changes.

    When it mattered most, the Wildcats’ tenacious defense caused 23 turnovers, while holding Vanguard to 33.9 percent shooting via traps and pressure.

    “”Ashley is really the heart and soul of the team,”” said UA head coach Joan Bonvicini. “”The team really reflects her when she’s playing great – her energy, confidence and poise just goes through everyone on the team.””

    An entire team effort – from incoming freshmen to seniors – lifted Arizona past an NAIA team from the Golden State Athletic Conference that competed with a fearless NCAA-caliber attack, proving itself worthy to compete in a Pacific 10 Conference environment.

    “”There was a point in the game where they were up and we fought through it,”” Whisonant said. “”That shows the heart of our team. …We always played hard.””

    As Whisonant demonstrated senior leadership down the stretch, forward Amina Njonkou complemented her performance by adding a double-double with 16 points and a team-high 13 rebounds, seven of which were offensive.

    Off the strength of those second chances, every Wildcat scored, with 22 points coming from the bench.

    Vanguard’s Jessica Richter, last year’s Big East Freshman of the Year with Syracuse, scored 33 points, leading the Lions’ second-half surge that featured nine quick points after the first 6:16 to open a 45-44 lead.

    In an effort to stop the bleeding, guard Jessica Arnold drove the baseline, made a layup and drew a foul, giving Arizona a 56-53 lead with 6:58 remaining. Arnold combined with Whisonant for 10 steals, but left the game with 3:22 remaining after a collision at halfcourt required her to be evaluated by team doctors.

    “”With the speed that we have, we’re able to force turnovers and make everything go a lot faster,”” said Dickey, who credited the game’s high tempo to the team’s 6 a.m. conditioning practices.

    Arizona maintained first-half control through solid execution and hustle. Arnold fought for back-to-back steals with 16:25 left in the first half, helping maintain a 10-6 Arizona lead.

    Newcomer junior Sarah Hays hit back-to-back layups to put Arizona up 30-19 with 4:50 to play in the half.

    Strong communication, passing and ball movement among guards and post players led to Arizona’s 48 points in the paint, Whisonant said.

    “”Talking just helps people flow and know what you’re doing,”” she said. “”We obviously have a really good post game. When we get the ball to the post, we’re basically unstoppable, and a lot of good things happen.””

    And 1

    Whisonant left the game with 19:22 left in the second half, quickly limping off the court directly to the trainer. She returned with 14:59 in the half battling calf cramps to lead the UA comeback.

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