They're baaaaack ... and then some!
The University of Arizona women's basketball team begins the new millenium with high expectations, as it returns nine letterwinners, including all five starters, from the 1999 team which posted an 18-11 mark. In addition to those nine returnees, the Cats welcome the return of an experienced player, Monika Crank, who was medically redshirted last year.
This year's roster represents a combined total of 21 years of collegiate playing experience and features a group of seven potential starters. That's a nice quandry for ninth-year head coach Joan Bonvicini, after seeing her roster drained to nine relatively inexperienced players by the end of last season.
|All Pac-10 freshman Elizabeth Pickney (11.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg in 1998-99) returns.|
"We have a very good nucleus of players this year. We're returning all our players, all the starters, and are adding two redshirted seniors who will definitely figure into the mix," said Bonvicini, who is beginning her 21st year as a collegiate head coach.
"This is definitely the deepest team I've ever had at Arizona. Our fans are going to see us mix it up more this year, playing more people. We're going to be a very balanced team."
The Freshman Class
A 6-2 off-guard, Krista Warren is the lone freshman signee on the Wildcat squad this year, but she is expected to make an immediate impact for the UA. While at Cloverdale (Calif.) High School, Warren was the 1999 California Division IV Player of the Year and was chosen a BCI first team All-American. The three-time Northern California Player of the Year was also twice selected Redwood Empire Most Valuable Player.
Warren was the first Redwood Empire player ever to surpass the 2,000-point and 1,000-rebound plateau. As a senior she averaged 30.5 points, 12.9 rebounds, 3.0 steals, 2.7 assists and 2.4 blocks per game.
Another freshman guard, 5-7 Jamie Sturdivant is trying out for this year's team as a walk-on, coming to Tucson from Simi Valley, Calif., High School. A two-time All-Ventura County and three-time All-Marmonte League selection, Sturdivant helped Simi Valley to a 27-8 mark in 1999. She could some additional depth to the Wildcat backcourt this year
The Sophomore Class
After seeing a great deal of playing time as rookies last season, the Wildcat sophomores are experienced now and know what to expect for the upcoming year.
Headlining the group of five sophomores on the 2000 roster is 6-4 forward Elizabeth Pickney, who was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team last year. She led Arizona in rebounding with 5.8 per game and was third in scoring, averaging 11.4 ppg. Pickney was one of only two players last year to start all 29 games.
Gaining solid experience as a sub who averaged more than 22 minutes per game, 5-9 guard Julie Brase could press for even more playing time this year. Posting averages of 6.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg and 1.8 apg, Brase proved to be a deadly long-range shooter at times, as she shot .379 (22-58) from beyond the arc for the year.
A 6-4 center, LaKeisha Taylor had a bit of a slow start after redshirting in 1997-98, but she certainly made an impact for the Cats later in the year. Although she averaged only 3.8 ppg and 2.8 rpg for the season, Taylor tallied 5.5 points and 3.1 rebounds per game while shoting 56 percent from the floor over the final 14 games of the year. With good reason, Taylor was chosen the UA's Most Improved Player and could see even more minutes of playing time this year.
Michelle Mitchell, another 6-4 center, is a solid backup for the Wildcat frontcourt. She played in 23 contests for the UA last year, averaging 1.4 points and 1.2 rebounds per game.
Although she had to sit out last year as a partial qualifier, 5-8 guard Tysell Bozeman is a prime candidate to give the Wildcat point guards some serious competition. A very quick, athletic player with great ball-handling skills, Bozeman was the 1998 Los Angeles Times Player of the Year while at Moreno Valley (Calif.) High School.
The Junior Class
The lone junior on this year's roster is 5-10 guard Reshea Bristol, who was chosen the UA's Defensive MVP in 1999. Averaging 11.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game last season, she played in 28 contests, with 18 starts mostly in the latter half of the year. Bristol was among the Pac-10 steals leaders all season, finishing third in that category.
The Senior Class
If the 1998 season, which saw the Cats make a first-ever trip to the Sweet Sixteen, was any indicator of how the UA can perform with a slew of seniors on the roster, then we could be looking at a repeat performance or maybe even the ultimate goal -- the Final Four. Just like that 1998 team, this year's roster is dominated by seniors, five players who will be the core of the 2000 Wildcat squad.
At 6-0, forward Angela Lackey is certainly one of the Wildcats' top returnees. She led Arizona in scoring last year with 14.4 ppg and was second in rebounding at 5.4 rpg. After transferring to the UA from Coffeyville (Kans.) Community College, Lackey made an immediate impact for the Cats last seasib and was consequently named to the All-Pac-10 team. She was also chosen the UA's co-Most Valuable Player.
Serving as the Wildcats' starting point guard for each of the last three years, the 5-6 Lisa Griffith is expected to fill the role yet again this season. Griffith earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 laurels after averaging 9.7 points, 4.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game last year. She also set new Arizona career records in both three-pointers made and attempted and became the Pac-10 career leader in three-pointers made.
Another outstanding guard for the Cats, the 5-7 Felecity Willis upped her averages to 12.1 ppg, 5.5 apg and 3.6 rpg last year and was named to the All-Pac-10 team as well. Willis, one of the only two players to start all 29 contests, was selected as the UA co-MVP, along with Lackey. She was one of the Pac-10's best in assists all year, ending the season as number three in that category.
A welcome re-addition to the Wildcat lineup is 5-7 guard Monika Crank. The player better known as "Bug" had to redshirt last year with a torn ACL in her left knee. Now fully recovered, Crank, with her strong defensive presence, long-range shooting abilities and team leadership, could regain the starting position she held before her injury.
Yet another 6-4 forward, junior college transfer Tatum Brown proved her worth early last year by averaging 9.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game over the first 13 contests of the season. She was then ruled ineligible and was forced to sit out the remainder of the year.
There are a lot of quality teams which stand between the Wildcats and a fourth straight NCAA appearance in 2000. This year's slate features eight teams which earned NCAA berths last season, including two schools - UCLA and Colorado State - that played one another in the Sweet Sixteen. UCLA advanced to the Elite Eight before being knocked out by Louisiana Tech.
Four other 2000 opponents participated in the newly revamped Postseason WNIT. New Mexico made it to the third round of the tournament before falling to Drake, while Washington and Oklahoma both saw second-round appearances.
The Cats open nonconference play at the Hawaiian Regent Classic in Honolulu Nov. 19-21. Arizona appears along with Oklahoma, Tennessee Tech and host Hawai'i.
Arizona's home slate tips off with a contest which features the renewal of one of the UA's oldest series. The Cats play their first home game on Saturday, Nov. 27, against New Mexico, facing the Lobos for the first time since 1995 and reviving a competition that began during the UA's first official year of varsity play in 1973.
Other nonconference opponents coming to Tucson are Northern Illinois; UC Santa Barbara, which finished 1999 ranked 17th in the Associated Press poll; and Colorado State, a team that was consistently ranked in the top five last year and ended the season at No. 7 in the AP poll.
The Wildcats play host to Indiana, Middle Tennessee State and Texas Southern for the ninth annual Insight.com Bowl Basketball Classic on Dec. 10 and 12. The Cats face Texas Southern, and Indiana takes on Middle Tennessee in first-round action.
Arizona rounds out nonconference action with a few road games. The Cats play at Kansas, which earned a No. 22 ranking in the final USA Today poll, on Dec. 21. The team then heads even farther east to participate in the Louisville Tournament on Dec. 28 and 29, along with Western Illinois, Marshall and host Louisville.
"We have another good schedule again this season," said Bonvicini. "Our trip to Hawai'i will show us early where we are. Our depth will be a big factor there, because we'll be playing three games in as many days. The field in that tournament will be a good test for us. The rest of our nonconference schedule is very good, with Colorado State, New Mexico, Santa Barbara, Northern Illinois and our tournament."
Pac-10 play opens for the Cats on Jan. 6 and 8 against California and Stanford, respectively, at home. The Wildcats will also wrap up the year against the Bay Area schools, playing at Stanford then California on Mar. 9 and 11.
Although the Pac-10 is always a highly competitive league, it showed more parity in 1999 than it had in years. Oregon and UCLA tied for the league championship, the first conference crown for each school. Perennial champion Stanford finished only in third place, followed by Arizona in fourth. No team escaped the season with less than three conference losses.
"The Pac-10 is going to be very strong again this year," said Bonvicini. "You are going to see a lot of teams much improved over last season. The league as a whole was very young last year."