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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

W-Hoops forward models game after former UA great

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Ify Ibekwe, a former forward for the Arizona women’s basketball team, constantly made her presence felt on the court.

She was the Wildcats’ most impactful player, starting 100 games from 2007 to 2011, averaging a double-double with 14.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. But less notably, Ibekwe acted as a mentor for current sophomore forward Erica Barnes, who has scored 12.5 points per game as a starter for the Wildcats this season.

“(On the recruiting trip) they talked about Ify a lot, so coming here I knew she was a senior and I would have to step up after she left,” Barnes said. “I just looked up to her a lot.”

Barnes, a Sacramento native, is having a standout season after taking over Ibekwe’s spot in the starting lineup. She’s third on the team in scoring and is leading the team in rebounds with 9.1 per game. She attributes some of her success, as well as part of her reason for coming to Arizona, to her blossoming relationship with head coach Niya Butts.

“Last year we talked a lot, and she told me what my role was going to be,” Barnes said. “I feel like this year we have a better relationship because of my playing time, and I’m a big part of this team.”

Barnes has started all 19 games for Arizona this season, and is starting to understand her role as a post player is “just to dominate the low block,” she said. In the last seven games, Barnes has grabbed 66 rebounds, showing a commitment and focus to coach Butts’ primary coaching philosophy.

“All we stress is playing defense and rebounding,” guard Candice Warthen said. “We had one offensive rebound, we need to do better, it’s a big deal.”

The Wildcats are struggling, currently 2-5 in their last seven outings, but Barnes has been making major contributions to the team, even hitting the game-winning shot against Oregon State two weeks ago. After Sunday’s loss to Colorado, Butts had nothing but praise for Barnes.

“She had a lot of hustle plays in there today,” Butts said. “She means a lot (to the team). I think if she plays really well, when she does demand the ball, and when she is aggressive offensively, it certainly helps this team. It takes a load off of everybody else.”

Despite the team’s struggles, Barnes still believes in the team’s ability to step up in a clogged Pac-12. Eight of the 12 teams have four or five conference losses, including the Wildcats (13-6, 2-5 Pac-12). In order to help, Barnes wants to kick a specific part of her game into gear.

“I feel like I need to score more points, because without me scoring, (shooting guard) Davellyn (Whyte) scoring, or (guard) Candice (Warthen) scoring, we don’t win,” Barnes said. “I feel like if one of us comes up short, we lose.”

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