The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

79° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Women’s hoops mid-conference season report

    Arizona womens basketball head coach Niya Butts coaches forward Ify Ibekwe at Octobers Red/Blue game in McKale Center. At the halfway point in conference play, Butts has helped guide  her team to a 1-8 record in the Pac-10.
    Arizona women’s basketball head coach Niya Butts coaches forward Ify Ibekwe at October’s Red/Blue game in McKale Center. At the halfway point in conference play, Butts has helped guide her team to a 1-8 record in the Pac-10.

    The Arizona women’s basketball team stands tied for ninth place in the Pacific 10 Conference with Washington – the only team to fall to Arizona – at just 1-8 at the halfway mark of league play. This, however, does not tell the whole story of the Wildcats’ season.
    Injuries, young players and a new-found intensity is what marks the beginning of the Niya Butts era. Overall, Arizona’s record does not indicate a total collapse of a team. Before conference play began, the Wildcats put together a four-game win streak, proving the team could combine offense and defense and maybe become a powerful force. With momentum on the their side, the Wildcats opened league play with a road trip against the Bay Area schools and quickly found out that Pac-10 play was a completely different ball game.
    “”I think most of us know now that this is the Pac-10. All the teams we play from here on out are going to be as tough and physical,”” senior forward Amina Njonkou said after dropping the first two conference games.
    Although they have recorded only one victory against its conference, the difference in Arizona’s style of play and intensity has been noted. Arizona has consistently shown it competes to the end. The Wildcats fell just short of a comeback against then-No. 11 Stanford, and two weeks later took USC into overtime before losing by just six points.
    The change in attitude starts at the top with Butts, and head coaches around the Pac-10 have seen the difference Butts brings to the team.
    “”They’re playing with some new energy. They did a really good job on the boards,”” California head coach Joanne Boyle said after her team beat the UA 56-46 on Jan. 2.
    Aside from Butts’ infusion of energy, she isn’t afraid to make changes to the team. She’s installed more press defenses in games and recently shuffled the lineup to maximize Reiko Thomas’ ability to score.
    Along with the changes in coaching strategy, a standout player has emerged for the Wildcats. Forward Ify Ibekwe is making a splash in her sophomore campaign. She currently leads the Pac-10 in average rebounds per game and has recorded 11 double-doubles so far this season. Her size and ability to be aggressive when moving toward the basket gives the Wildcats a dependable centerpiece in their offense.
    UCLA head coach Nikki Caldwell was impressed with Ibekwe’s abilities after she saw them firsthand on Jan. 17 in McKale Center.
    “”Ify is a great player, no questions about it,”” Caldwell said after her team’s 10-point win. “”She is a great competitor and has great length, battles on every possession and puts the team first.””
    Although Ibewke’s individual stats are impressive, it has not been Ibekwe’s lack of production that has kept more tallies out of the win column for Arizona. There always seems to be something else that keeps the Wildcats at bay.
    Against USC, two of Arizona’s freshmen starters – Thomas and Courtney Clements – went down with ankle injuries, leaving the bench players to try and fill in. The losses to Washington State, USC, and UCLA were a result of second-half collapses. Typically, Arizona would put up a good fight, and still be defeated.
    “”I thought it was tremendous. It was exactly what we needed to do to have a chance to win,”” Butts said after the loss at home to USC. “”I’m very proud and pleased with a lot of things we did tonight. We just couldn’t finish it off and get a ‘W.'””
    Butts continued to preach a defensive mindset that seemed to give the team confidence, in its ability to keep the opponents fighting for points despite seven-straight conference losses. But when the defense seemed to be clicking, the team’s offensive execution would disappear.
    “”We were missing open shots and even open layups, nullifying all our work and aggressiveness on the defensive end,”” Butts said.
    This was the thorn in the side for the Wildcats. Arizona’s offense looked to have hit rock bottom after back-to-back losses in which Arizona only scored 38 points in each contest.
    “”When you shoot 23 percent from the field, it’s very difficult to win a game,”” Butts said after the loss to UCLA on Jan. 17. “”Our defense held UCLA to 48 points, which gives you a great opportunity to win, but we didn’t help ourselves out on the offensive end.””
    After the 38-point showing against ASU, the Wildcats headed up to Washington where they snagged their first win against the Huskies. This time it was the dynamic play of Njonkou that lead Arizona to victory. She recorded a double-double and sparked the Wildcat offense while Ibekwe was on the bench in foul trouble.
    “”It certainly felt good,”” Butts said. “”We’ve been working hard and just hadn’t been getting the results. It was certainly something to look at positive and look forward to in the future.””
    That future appears to be set under a foundation of aggressive defense and an offense that has shown the potential to put points on the board. The right combination of players gives Arizona the ability to be an upset-team this year in the Pac-10, and lays groundwork for the prospect of better things for women’s basketball at the UA.
    Arizona continues the second half of the season against Oregon State in McKale Center on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Wildcats will play five of their next seven games at home.

    More to Discover
    Activate Search