The Wildcat women’s basketball team has high expectations for the 2004-05 season, perhaps more so than ever before. After going 24-9 last season and making the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row, Arizona returns four of five starters, including honorable mention All-American Shawntinice Polk at center and All-Pac-10 point guard Dee-Dee Wheeler.
“We should have a strong team this year,” Head Coach Joan Bonvicini explains. “We are coming off a good season, but we want to do better. We return four starters, and with our other returners and the recruits we’ve added, we’ll have a much deeper bench this year.”
Polk, a junior and two-time Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA)/Kodak honorable mention All-American who has averaged a double-double in each of her two seasons, and Wheeler, a three-year starter and two-time All-Pac-10 performer, anchor the team. Both have been named preseason candidates for the Wade Trophy, given to the Division I Player of the Year.
“Polkey creates match-up problems for just about any team we face,” Bonvicini notes. “She has such size and versatility in the post. Dee-Dee has outstanding quickness and is both an offensive and defensive threat.”
The other returning starters are sophomore Shannon Hobson, an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection last year, and Natalie Jones, who averaged 8.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists as a sophomore in 2003-04.
Arizona returns five other letterwinners from last year and has added five newcomers, headlined by local guard Jessica Arnold and forward Chari Smith, who Bonvicini calls an “outstanding athlete.”
The Wildcats hope to repeat as Pacific-10 Conference champions, a feat they accomplished last year for the first time in the history of the program. “Once you win a conference title, you shoot for that every year,” Bonvicini says. “The target is really on us now.”
With a solid core group of returning players, and new, promising talent, the future looks bright for Arizona. “We’re really excited about the season,” Bonvicini claims. “We have good chemistry and I expect great things from this team.”
Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2004-05 Wildcats.
Starting at point guard will be Wheeler, who last year led the team in scoring and assists. The senior has 78 career double-digit scoring performances, with an active streak of 33. After three seasons, she already ranks in the Top 10 in 12 career statistical categories and needs just 218 more points to move into the No. 2 spot on the all-time scoring chart.
“Dee-Dee is a great leader,” Bonvicini claims. “This is her third season as a captain. She has high expectations for herself and her teammates. Her senior leadership will be instrumental for our success.”
Senior guard Katrina Lindner also provides good leadership and has experience as a back up. “Katrina is a fierce competitor and wants her senior season to be her best year,” Bonvicini explains.
Arnold, a freshman from Tucson, didn’t play her senior season in high school due to a shoulder injury. An all-conference and All-Tucson pick in 2002-03, when she averaged 18 points, six assists, six steals and five rebounds per game, Bonvicini believes she will get time right away, either starting or off the bench. “Jessica is quick and is a good leaper,” Bonvicini says. “All she lacks is college experience.”
Freshman Ashley Whisonant will play either the one- or two-guard. A member of one of the top high school programs in the country at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C., Whisonant was a two-time Street & Smith's honorable mention All-American. “Ashley brings excellent athleticism and is a good ball handler,” Bonvicini notes.
Jones, who Bonvicini calls the team’s best defender, will get the starting nod at either the two or three position. “Natalie is a good ball handler and brings a tremendous amount of athleticism to the guard position,” Bonvicini says. “We look for her to be more of an offensive threat this season.”
Rachael Schein, who played the three last season, will move to the two-guard this year. “Rachael spent countless hours working on her game over the summer and it shows,” Bonvicini explains. “Her shot has really improved.”
Bonvicini says sophomore Linda Pace, who last year played in 29 games, averaging 6.1 minutes, has improved a great deal. “After one year with us, Linda has a much better understanding of our game,” she says.
Another addition to the team at the guard position is junior Joy Hollingsworth. The 2002-03 West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year, she joined the team after transferring from San Francisco, but will have to sit out the year due to NCAA transfer rules. “This year will be helpful to Joy,” Bonvicini explains. “It will allow her to prepare for the difference in play in the Pac-10.”
The freshman Smith will play either the three or four position and Bonvicini says she will definitely see playing time. “Chari is a great ball handler for her size,” she claims. “She’s a good rebounder and is really talented.”
Hobson, who started the final 15 games of the season last year, should be the starter at the four spot. “Shannon is a great worker and an excellent athlete,” Bonvicini says. ”Her biggest strength is her ability to go inside out.”
Junior forward Anna Chappell also returns. After playing in 16 games last season, Bonvicini says she has improved a lot. “Anna has a great attitude and work ethic,” she notes. “Her ability to stretch the defense could increase her minutes this season.”
Freshman Ch?© Oh, who played on a state championship team at Seattle Prep, also adds depth to the position. “Ch?© is versatile,” Bonvicini explains. “She can handle the ball and can shoot the three.”
Polk, who last year became the first Arizona sophomore ever to reach the 1,000-point plateau, is the Wildcats’ career leader in blocked shots with 160 and in double-doubles with 37. She has been named a third team preseason All-American by Lindy’s and is one of 30 players named to the preseason Wooden Award watch list.
“Polkey has great size, moves well around the basket, and is an excellent passer and rebounder,” Bonvicini notes. “We look for her to be a threat to score every time she touches the ball.”
Providing back up at center is senior Danielle Adefeso, who has played in 82 games during her career. “Danielle is a good, solid player,” Bonvicini claims. “She’s big and strong and has really improved.”
As always, the Wildcats have a challenging schedule in 2004-05, facing eight teams that participated in last year's postseason ?- five in the NCAA Tournament and three in the Sportsview.tv Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT).
The Wildcats open the season in the prestigious Preseason WNIT on Nov. 12 at home against Saint Mary’s. The tournament features five teams that participated in last year’s NCAA Tournament and four teams that played in the Postseason WNIT.
“We’re honored to be asked to the WNIT again and to host for the first time,” Bonvicini says. “However, any time you play your first game earlier, it’s a challenge. That should be a great game here to start the season.”
The non-conference slate also includes three other opponents from last year’s NCAA Tournament ?- Georgia, Maryland and UC Santa Barbara. Georgia advanced to the Elite Eight, while Maryland made it to the second round and UC Santa Barbara lost in the Sweet 16.
“Georgia is obviously a great team, maybe one of the top teams in the nation,” Bonvicini explains. “The coach at Maryland is a former player of mine, so that should be an exciting game. And we lost to UC Santa Barbara last year, so we’re looking for revenge there.”
The Wildcats also make trips to Brigham Young and Chicago State, where Wheeler will play in front of a home crowd.
The grueling conference slate begins in late December after the holiday break. As a conference, the Pac-10 finished last season ranked as the fourth-toughest conference in the nation. Three teams ?- Arizona, Stanford and UCLA ?- competed in the NCAA Tournament, while three others ?- Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington ?- played in the WNIT.
“I think the conference is getting stronger every year,” Bonvicini notes. “There are a number of teams competing for the title. Last year we got three teams into the NCAA Tournament and we’re hoping to get four or five in this year. The Pac-10 has a lot of good teams and good players.”
Arizona opens Pac-10 play on the road at Washington and Washington State, both of which the Wildcats swept last season. Arizona then returns to the Grand Canyon state for the heated rivalry at Arizona State on Jan. 3. The Wildcats fell to the Sun Devils in Tempe last season.
The Wildcats’ first conference home games are Jan. 7 and 9 against California and Stanford. Arizona has won 18 in a row against the Golden Bears and will be looking to avenge a heartbreaking loss to the Cardinal in the championship of last year’s Pac-10 Tournament.
A trip to Los Angeles to face USC and UCLA comes next, followed by a four-game home swing against the Oregon schools, ASU and Maryland to close out January.
The Wildcats open February with games in the Bay area, followed by home games against UCLA and USC. After a trip to Oregon and Oregon State, Arizona closes out the regular season at home against the Washington schools.
The Pac-10 Tournament will again be held at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. The 2005 tournament runs March 4-7.