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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

W-hoops poised to commence tournament play

With dreams of dancing in March, the Arizona women’s basketball team opens Pacific 10 Conference Tournament play against the Washington State Cougars tonight at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, with tip-off at 7.

The Wildcats (13-16, 6-12 Pac-10) are looking for another win against the Cougars (8-21, 3-15), a team they managed to sweep in the regular season.

Although Arizona already has two wins this season against Washington State, head coach Niya Butts was cautious in stating that the Wildcats hold any momentum over the Cougars because tournament play is an entirely different game.

“”What our team is doing right now is understanding that tournament time is a whole new season, so that’s our approach,”” Butts said. “”When you go in and you think about a team like Washington State, who has certainly gotten better over the year, they’re a really confident team, despite their record, and so they’re always dangerous.””

Arizona comes into the tournament on a five-game losing streak, something that is never ideal for a tournament atmosphere. But the Wildcats can take pride in the fact that their second-half play was greatly improved over the past weekend against USC and UCLA.

In both games, the Wildcats were down by at least 10 points, but managed to rally and fight back to lessen the deficit substantially.

Arizona guard and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Davellyn Whyte said the key to these comebacks was the tenacity of star forward Ify Ibekwe.

“”I think it was Ify,”” Whyte said. “”She came back in the second half with a lot of energy and it helped us all forget about fatigue, so we fed off her.””

Ibekwe, a junior, has been nothing short of spectacular during her tenure as a Wildcat. Taking home Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year this season is another awardto add to her already sparkling basketball resume.

Butts and company congratulated Ibekwe and Whyte on their achievements this season, and Butts stressed that the awards, although individual, should be considered as merit for the entire team.

“”They certainly could not have won that without their team and need to make sure that they acknowledge that,”” Butts said. “”But again, I’m just happy for them as a coach, I love coaching them. Hopefully we can just use some of that momentum going into the tournament.””

Washington State is quite saturated in the loss column, but is still able to put solid points up on the board, averaging 61.8 points per game, only a few behind Arizona’s average of 66.

With help from guards April Cook and Kiki Moore, who average 13.8 and 12.1 points per game, respectively, the Cougars will look to keep Arizona in check with quick drives to the basket and solid perimeter shooting.

In order to bounce back from the losing streak, the Wildcats have emphasized rebounding and ball protection, but at the end of the day Arizona’s ability to finish games needs to finally come around.

“”We’ve been working hard, we’ve done a lot of things better, we’ve rebounded better, and we’ve done a better job taking care of the basketball,”” Butts said. “”Its just a matter of us being able to those finish games and get up over the hump a little bit.””

If the persistence and hard work keep up, Arizona should be primed physically and mentally to make a run through the tournament table.

“”You’re going to need a little luck somewhere in between, but our kids are going to keep working and hopefully going into the tournament,”” Butts said. “”They understand that anything can happen in March.

“”(The team) understands in their minds, if they don’t get it done tonight, then there will be no tomorrow,””

The winner of tonight’s game will go on to face the No. 2 Stanford Cardinal in the second round of the tournament.

Stanford is undefeated in the conference and its only loss on the season came against the No. 1 Connecticut Huskies, who have won 72 straight games.

Butts and company are ready for anything March can throw at them, and the will to win will be present throughout the entire 40-minute contest, regardless of the final outcome.

“”It’s not rocket science,”” Butts said. “”You just have to keep fighting, if there’s time left on the clock, if there’s any life left in your body, you have to fight until the end.””

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