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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Can Butts overhaul the women’s basketball team?

    PRO: No ‘Butts’ about it, coach needed

    If first impressions prove true, Niya Butts will kick some butt – no buts about it. And after burying any combination of that pun from ever being used again, Butts will also bury the recent history of a dormant Arizona women’s basketball program.

    And by dormant, I mean a team that ended this year with suspended starters, season-long injuries and a cultivated 29-63 record over the past three years.

    Talent wasn’t the issue during Arizona’s time occupying the conference cellar. Rather, a lack of discipline and team camaraderie hurt the nucleus all season, as players

    frequently thought the team needed to “”get together”” or “” play as a team”” as the losses continued to pile on.

    By the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament, three players were serving suspensions due to team rule violations.

    Senior Jessica Arnold shot around McKale after Butts’ press conference last week, encouraged by the new coach’s strict, yet positive enthusiasm after her first team meeting. Arnold said it’s something the team needs: an energetic and exciting fresh beginning to a struggling program.

    And while Tennessee women’s basketball head coach Pat Summitt seeks her eighth NCAA National Championship tonight, the 30-year-old Butts’ ambitious attitude travels to Tampa, watching her former coach attempt to win Tennessee’s first championship since 1998 – the year Summitt coached Butts.

    This time, however, Butts is receiving praise from Summitt not as a player, but as a newly hired head coach.

    “”I see her taking the same qualities I saw in her as a player en route to two NCAA Championships – doing all the little things right – and applying them as a head coach at the University of Arizona,”” Summitt said in a UA release.

    An immense amount of hard work and challenges seem doable for Butts’ excitement and eagerness to overhaul the program.

    No Butts about it.

    -Bryan Roy, sports writer

    CON: Rebuilding will be a slow process

    Pardon me for not jumping out of my chair with excitement at this acquisition. The fact is the Arizona women’s basketball team is still a good two to three years away from becoming the program that once appeared in seven NCAA Tournaments in nine years.

    Niya Butts may have the potential to turn the Arizona women’s basketball program around in the long run, but do not expect any immediate results.

    Through the last three grueling seasons, Arizona has struggled to hold onto players and pick up valuable recruits.

    Since 2004, the Wildcats have lost 10 players by way of transfer – most recently including both Rhaya and Rheya Neabors, the latter of which confirmed their intentions to change schools with the Arizona Daily Wildcat last week.

    With such a high number of players choosing to leave the program, this leads one to believe internal issues must be plaguing the team.

    An example of this speculation came in the final week of the 2007-08 season as three of Arizona’s top players – both Neabors and guard Ashley Whisonant – all spent the team’s final game at home after being suspended by recently-dismissed head coach Joan Bonvicini. What’s more, in response to the suspensions, the players’ own teammates supported their coach’s suspensions as guard Tasha Dickey even called the suspensions “”one of the best decisions (Bonvicini) has made all year.””

    To me this does not sound like a fully functional team and even though both Neabors twins and Whisonant will be gone next season, discomfort at Arizona has been evident throughout the past three seasons, which is illustrated by the departure of numerous players.

    In addition to Arizona’s internal issues, its on-the-court performance has not been stellar either. This past season, the Wildcats shot only 40.3 percent from the field, along with a dismal 25.3 percent from behind the arc.

    Now, with their leading scorer in Whisonant lost to graduation, the Wildcats will be forced to rely on two of the team’s youngest players – Dickey and forward Ify Ibekwe – to carry the team’s offense next season.

    Between Arizona’s behind-the-scenes issues and its struggles on the court, Butts will surely have her hands full. Making the Wildcats a Pac-10 power will not only require a few simple moves, but an entire rebuilding project.

    For Arizona to become successful, Butts needs to address everything from team chemistry to fundamentals to attracting the nation’s top prospects to Tucson and getting them to stay here.

    Don’t expect to see Arizona in the NCAA Tournament next season. This team has simply suffered too much bleeding to recover that quickly.

    -Bobby Stover, sports writer

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