No. 15 California @ Arizona
Monday, Jan. 20
3 p.m. MT
Television: Live on Pac-12 Networks, Ros Gold-Onwude and Aaron Goldsmith calling the action
Radio: KTUC AM 1400 (Derrick Palmer and Lisa Salgado)
Freshman LaBrittney Jones joined the Arizona team in 2013 with a lot to prove. She came into the program as a top-100 recruit and was returning to the court after tearing her ACL in her senior season of high school.
No one knew that Jones would have to step up so quickly, however. Senior Alli Gloyd tore her ACL before the Wildcats’ first game and senior Erica Barnes sat out the first four games with a concussion.
That left Jones and fellow freshmen Breanna Workman and Dejza James to fill the post positions. Then, on December 21, James also succumbed to an ACL injury.
Together, Jones and Workman have stepped up to the challenge. Most recently, Jones has had two double-doubles in five games, including a season and team-high 15 rebounds versus Texas Tech last month.
It is easy to see that she is rapidly improving—however, she is not satisfied.
"My performance during the last couple games makes me happy," Jones said. "But it also makes me want to work harder and do more for myself and for the team."
Jones ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in blocked shots (20), leads the team in rebounds per game (6.2), has the second-highest field goal percentage (.461) and free throw percentage (.793) on the team and a lot of her points come from second chance opportunities.
She credits a lot of her success to her teammates and to productive practices.
"It helps me out a lot to play and practice with my teammates who help me get better." Jones said. "I've also been focusing on rebounding and executing on offense, which really helps me succeed."
Normally, a player like Jones would be able to ease back into playing in games after tearing her ACL, but this injury-riddled season for the Wildcats has been anything but normal.
Even though Jones’ knee is at about 75 percent, Arizona is short on healthy bodies and desperately needs the production Jones provides.
“LaBrittany gives us what she has.” Head Coach Niya Butts said. “She is playing at less than 100 percent, which gives me a ton of respect for her. We certainly know that she has a lot more to give. Unfortunately for her, she hasn’t had the time to be able to grow into her role right now because of some of the injuries we have sustained, so she has kind of been thrown into the fire right away. That’s okay though, because I think it is valuable for her to get these types of minutes.”
Jones is aware that she is not fully recovered, but she is also just as aware of how much the Wildcats need her on the court.
“I'm playing through pain, but that is something you have to do if you want to win,” Jones said. “So I'm focusing on trying to play better for my team regardless of a little pain. Coach does a good job of getting me in and out and working with me to make sure I'm okay."
When it comes to managing player minutes, Butts knows she is in a precarious situation, as fatigued players are prone to injury and re-injury more than rested players and too much stress on Jones could be dangerous for her body.
On the other hand, no coach wants to take out the team’s best rebounder during a close game.
“It’s difficult to manage her minutes because our numbers our low.” Butts said. “That’s a really tough task for us as a staff, but we are trying to get her in and out of the game quickly. We like to let her play for about three minutes at a time, but our goal is to keep her as fresh as possible.”
Jones will be a much bigger asset for the Wildcats once her body heals and allows her to play more than just three or four effective minutes at a time.
“She is going to be one of our better players.” Butts said. “She’s a good kid who works hard, has a good attitude and wants to succeed.”
And someone who will do anything for her team.
"It's just feels natural for me to work hard." Jones said. "Even though I have pain, my team still needs me because we don't have that many numbers, so I'm willing to make the sacrifice to help my team out."
The Wildcats know that if they want to win with a young and injury riddled squad (four freshmen), they simply need to work harder than their opponents.
“We have been spending extra time in the gym because we haven't had much success recently.” Jones said. “The team is working harder than ever and trying to find ways to get it done. Even though we have so many injured players, we are trying to focus on future games. We have a lot of games to go and they are only going to get tougher, but we are still trying to stay positive. If we go out and do what we have to do, then we can and will win.”