The Wildcats are coming off a season which saw them post a 25-7 overall record - the best in the history of the program. The UA went 13-5 in Pac-10 play, tying Stanford for second place in the league standings, and made its fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance.
"This year's team has more experienced returnees than the `99 team did," said tenth-year head coach Joan Bonvicini in reference to the last time the Wildcats faced a season after the graduation of multiple players. "Last year we had a great record, but we weren't carried by just one player. We had the deepest team we've ever had, and that gave a lot of players the chance to gain experience.
"This is certainly going to be a different season for us. We lost a very good senior class that was instrumental in this program's success," she said. "We're going to rely on some people to take stronger roles this year. This gives our returning players the opportunity to step up and play valuable minutes. Our new players are going to make contributions right away, too."
Gone are guards Lisa Griffith, the Pac-10 career three-point leader, and Felecity Willis, a two-time All-Pac-10 honoree. Both were fixtures in the Wildcat back court for four years. Junior college transfers Tatum Brown, last year's leading rebounder and an All-Pac-10 selection, and Angela Lackey, last season's top scorer, have exhausted their eligibility as well. The Cats have also lost the defensive prowess and experience of guard Monika Crank.
What remains is a group of young players eager to prove themselves, and every one of them should get that chance this year.
THE FRESHMAN CLASS
Four incoming freshmen - three guards and a forward - join the Wildcat ranks this season, and all four are expected to press the returnees for playing time.
A 5-10 guard from Ontario, Calif., Candice Allen was a four-time All-CIF, All-Southern Section and All-Sierra League selection while playing for Ruben S. Ayala High School. She was her team's Most Valuable Player three times and was selected the Sierra League MVP twice. Allen was also a Student Sports All-American and helped Ayala win four straight Sierra League championships.
At 6-0, guard Jen Chesney adds even more height to the Wildcat backcourt. Expected to see time at the two and three spots, Chesney is out of Newberg (Ore.) High School. She was a three-time All-Pac-8 choice and was named the Pac-8 Conference Most Valuable Player last season after leading the league in scoring all season. A two-time team MVP, Chesney was the fifth-leading scorer in the state of Oregon, averaging 19.8 points and 11 rebounds per game in 2000.
The third incoming guard is 5-7 Aimee Grzyb (pronounced GRIB), from Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif. Grzyb earned All-Blossom Valley Athletic League, San Jose Mercury News All-Central Coast Section, All-Mid-Peninsula and All-California honors. She registered 16 points, six assists and four steals per game while guiding Mitty to a 29-3 mark and a No. 14 national ranking as a senior. The Monarchs claimed four straight Central Coast Section and BVAL titles during Grzyb's career there. Grzyb is the first Mitty female basketball player ever to earn a Pac-10 scholarship.
The final new addition is 6-3 forward Veranda James, from Pomona, Calif. James was a two-time All-California and All-Inland Valley Region selection while playing for Ganesha High School. A three-time All-Valle Vista League choice, she was named the league's Most Valuable Player in both 1999 and 2000. James posted averages of 32.4 points, 17.2 rebounds and 5.2 blocks per game her senior year as Ganesha went 26-6, winning the Valley Vista League championship.
"We had a really good recruiting class this year," said Bonvicini. "We filled our holes with good size and quickness. All the new players have attributes that will help our program.
"Candice is extremely versatile; she can play the one, two or three. Jen is an outstanding shooter, very much the 'gym rat'," she said. "Aimee is a heady, smart player who comes from a nationally competitive program at Mitty. Because of her size and quickness, Veranda is going to really push some of the returnees right away."
THE SOPHOMORE CLASS
This year's Arizona roster features a pair of sophomores who should see plenty of playing time this season.
A 6-2 guard, Krista Warren is one of the prime candidates for a starting job at the three and four spots. She saw time at both spots last year, playing in 30 games with one start and earning Pac-10 All-Freshman Team honors. Warren averaged 3.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 9.0 minutes per game on a team that was already heavily laden with guards.
"We're going to rely heavily on Krista this year because she's such a versatile player," said Bonvicini. "She showed moments last year where her scoring ability revealed itself, but I think we'll see her become a more consistent scorer this year."
After making the team as a walk-on last fall, 5-7 guard Jamie Sturdivant has been given a scholarship for this season. She saw action in nine contests off the bench, posting 0.7 points and 0.2 rebounds per game.
THE JUNIOR CLASS
Five juniors grace the roster this season; three are post players and two are guards.
At 6-4, forward Elizabeth Pickney is the Cats' top returning scorer and rebounder and is expected to retain the starting spot she held the previous two years. She was third on the team last year in both scoring (9.8 ppg) and rebounding (4.5 rpg) and received the starting nod in 23 contests. An outstanding free throw shooter, Pickney's free throw percentage (.758) is fifth on the UA career list in that category. She is also fifth with 66 career blocked shots.
Julie Brase, a 5-9 junior, should push her way back into the starting lineup, after earning 19 starts while playing in every game last year. Brase is the UA's top returning three-point threat, with her career percentage (.381) holding down third place on the UA career chart. She also among the UA top 10 career leaders in both three-pointers made and attempted. Brase posted averages of 6.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game last year.
Another guard, 5-8 Tysell Bozeman showed flashes of offensive prowess last year, her first active season after sitting out 1999 as a partial qualifier. Named her team's Most Inspirational Player, Bozeman came off the bench in 23 games, averaging 2.9 points, 1.1 rebounds and 5.5 minutes per game. Her playing time should increase dramatically this season, and the Wildcat coaching staff considers the point guard position Bozeman's to earn.
A player who has shown steady improvement each year she has been here is 6-4 center LaKeisha Taylor. She played in 30 games last year as one of the Cats' top subs, registering 2.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 8.0 minutes per game. For the second year in a row, she was named Arizona's Most Improved Player.
Also a 6-4 center, Michelle Mitchell's unselfish, physical play earned her playing time off the bench in 12 contests last year. She tallied 1.0 rebounds, 0.9 points and 5.0 minutes per game as a sub in a very deep front court.
"This is a great time for all of our juniors to come into their own," said Bonvicini. "Elizabeth will be one of our key contributors this year, and I think we'll see Julie continue the strong play she showed at the end of last season.
"Tysell could have that starting point guard spot, but Aimee is going to be strong competition for her. They may split time there. We'll have to see what happens when the season starts.
"LaKeisha has had moments of brilliance in her time here, but she needs to be more consistent in her scoring and defense," she said. "Michelle is one of our hardest workers in practice, and now we need her to contribute more during games."
THE SENIOR CLASS
The lone senior on the squad this year is 5-10 guard Reshea Bristol, who is expected to remain in the starting spot she claimed midway through last season. An honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection, Bristol played in 28 games, starting 12 in the latter half of the year. She finished the season ranked seventh in the Pac-10 in steals (1.96 spg) and free throw percentage (.781). The Wildcats' Defensive MVP for the second straight year, Bristol averaged 8.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. She is already among the UA career leaders in free throw and three-point shooting.
"Reshea ended up having an outstanding final third of the season last year," said Bonvicini. "She had some injuries early in the year, but really came on late. She has the ability to break open games, and that's what we'll need her to do for us this year."
Bonvicini has again put together a strong schedule for the Wildcats this year. Twelve opponents on this year's slate saw postseason action last year, and four of them were nationally ranked at the end of the season.
The Cats open the 2000-2001 season with four difficult non-conference games. Arizona officially tips-off the new year on Saturday, Nov. 18, with a contest at home against Brigham Young, an NCAA tournament participant last season.
Following that are a pair of tough road games. The UA plays at Notre Dame, a Sweet Sixteen team in 2000, on Monday, Nov. 20. Then the Cats play at UC Santa Barbara, which finished the year ranked No. 21 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll, on Sunday, Nov. 26.
Arizona returns home to face Rice on Tuesday, Nov. 28. The Owls were responsible for upsetting UC Santa Barbara in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament. Another home game with UNLV follows that.
The Wildcats play host Fresno State and Bowling Green for the 10th annual Arizona Basketball Classic, Friday through Sunday, Dec. 8-10. The Cats wrap up their five-game homestand against Louisville on Dec. 17.
Arizona makes a first-ever trip to Puerto Rico this year for the San Juan Shootout on Dec. 19-21. Other participants include Nebraska, Auburn and the host team, University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. The Cats will be seeking revenge for last year's loss in Lawrence when they play host to Kansas in their final non-conference contest of the season on Dec. 29.
"We have an outstanding schedule this year," said Bonvicini. "We have some very difficult road games and home games. Our tournament, as always, should be very good, and the tournament in Puerto Rico will definitely be challenging."
Pac-10 Conference play will be competitive again this year. Four league teams, including Arizona, made the NCAA tournament last season, and two others - Arizona State and USC - participated in the WNIT.
"The Pac-10 is going to be tough, as it always is, but I think the conference as a whole needs to make a stronger stand nationally," Bonvicini said. "Oregon, since they're the defending champs, should be a favorite this year, but Stanford could do very well also.
"UCLA will still be good, despite its losses to graduation, and USC is the team that, talent-wise, should be most improved. They had a great second half of last season and made a strong showing in the NIT. Arizona State should be in the mix as well, with its good recruiting class and the return of some redshirts.
"We're going to have to contend with Washington, Cal, Washington State and Oregon State as well. You have to come out ready to play every Pac-10 game because each contest is a battle."
Conference play begins for the Cats on Jan. 4 and 6 at California and Stanford, respectively. Arizona plays its first home conference games on Jan. 11 and 13 against Washington State and Washington. The Wildcats wrap up regular-season play at home on Mar. 8 and 10 against the Bay Area schools.