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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: It could be the end of the Niya Butts era at Arizona

Rebecca Noble

Arizona women’s basketball coach Niya Butts expresses frustration from the sidelines as her team fails to perform again during Arizona’s 65-46 loss to California in McKale Center on Feb. 6. The Wildcats continue to struggle, raising questions over Butts’ job security.

McKale Center is without question the best arena in the Pac-12 Conference. Recently renovated, it features state-of-the-art everything, from concessions to locker rooms to the court itself.

Arizona’s practice basketball facility, Richard Jefferson Gymnasium, is just as stunning. Two full courts run end to end, joined by a weight room and cardio room that feature the latest technology.

Every conceivable tool is at the disposal of Arizona basketball players, both men and women. They share everything. Heck, even the team locker rooms are identical.

But while the men continue to dominate the conference on the recruiting trail as well as the court, the women have inexplicably fallen — and remained — at the bottom of the Pac.

The Arizona women’s team traveled to Corvallis, Ore. this past weekend, where it lost to No. 8 Oregon State 73-48. The defeat moved the Wildcats to 2-12 in conference play and 9-16 overall, all but guaranteeing another losing season.

It was not long ago that the Beavers were in the same cellar position as the Wildcats. In fact, going into this season, Oregon State had not made the Women’s NCAA Tournament in 19 years.

Today, the Beavers are ranked top 10 nationally, sit atop the Pac-12 and look poised to make a deep run in March.

Oregon State does not play in a state-of-the-art arena, nor does the school own a top-line training gym. Gill Coliseum, built in the 1940s, could be the home of some “Hoosiers” sequel.

The seats look like they’re made with cheap plastic, the scoreboard is archaic compared to the one at McKale Center and the arena only holds a capacity of 9,604. McKale Center can fit in nearly 16,000.

That’s not to mention that Corvallis isn’t exactly a destination spot for elite basketball players.

Yet, it is the Beavers, under fourth-year head coach Scott Rueck, who have climbed the conference ladder and look primed for future success.

All the while, the UA has constructed a modern basketball palace in Tucson, and the women’s program still finds itself muddling through quicksand.

Inevitably, the conversation turns to the future of head coach Niya Butts, who still has one year left on her contract. With Arizona doomed for another bottom finish in the Pac-12 — in a year that rival ASU has raced to the top — will athletic director Greg Byrne give Butts another chance?

Byrne made his presence nationally known when he chose to fire former football coach Mike Stoops mid-season back in 2011. He is not an athletic director who is going to accept mediocrity.

Now in her seventh year at Arizona, Butts has never led the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament. The only postseason trip was in 2011 when the UA fell in the first round of the NIT, and she actually got a contract extension after that.

In the four seasons since, Arizona has won a total of 10 conference games. That’s not cutting it.

Now equipped with the best facilities in the Pac-12, the only question to ask is: Why aren’t the Wildcats winning more? The blame has to fall on Butts.


Follow Ezra Amacher on Twitter.

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