Dec. 8, 2002
Tucson, Ariz. (Dec. 8) - A three-pointer from sophomore guard Dee-Dee Wheeler with less than two minutes to play helped the 21st-ranked University of Arizona women's basketball team hold on for a 75-73 win over Illinois at home on Sunday. The victory gave the Wildcats the eighth title in the 12-year history of their own Fiesta Bowl Women's Basketball Classic. On a four-game win streak, Arizona stands at 4-1 overall, while Illinois suffered its first loss of the season, slipping to 5-1.
The Wildcats jumped out a quick 10-4 lead in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the game, then pushed out to a 14-point (32-18) advantage at 8:56. The Illini, fueled by a string of four straight three-pointers, went on a 22-4 run to go ahead by four points (40-36) with 1:19 to play in the first. The Cats got back-to-back lay-ups from freshman center Shawntinice Polk to tie the game and then traded buckets with the Illini until both teams were tied at 42-42 at the break.
Neither team could gain more than a three-point lead through the first five minutes of the second half, then Arizona scored eight unanswered points to gain a nine-point (59-50) advantage at 12:08. Illinois went on a 12-4 spurt to chop the lead back down to one (63-62) just three minutes later. The Wildcats scrapped back out to a five-point (71-66) edge with 5:13 to play, then a series of Arizona miscues and missed shots gave the Illini the chance to get back to within one (71-70) at 3:16.
Polk hit the front end of a one-and-one with 2:33 left to give the Cats a two-point (72-70) lead, then Wheeler nailed her trey at 1:47 to send Arizona up by five (75-70). Illinois guard Tiffanie Guthrie drained the last of her tournament-record-tying seven three-pointers at 1:12 to bring her team back to within two points, but teammate Brett Leonard turned the ball over twice in the final 40 seconds, leaving the score at 75-73 for the final.
"At times, we turned the ball over too much. We were tired, but we gutted it out and that's what I am proud of," said Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini. "We're going to continue to get better. It was good to play a close game like this. We need to work on playing tough games on the road, but it was nice to win this one. Illinois is a good team; they are going to do well in the Big Ten this year."
Polk finished the game with a team-high 23 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. That was her fifth straight double-double, making her the first player in Arizona history to get five in a row. Wheeler added 15 points and five rebounds, while senior forward Krista Warren and junior guard Aimee Grzyb each had 14 points.
Illinois was led by Guthrie's game-high 30 points, including seven 3-pointers, which ties the tournament single-game record. Forward Aminata Yanni had 16 points off the bench as the only other Illini player in double digits.
In the consolation game, which was the first of the day's doubleheader, North Texas downed UC Riverside, 82-66.
The Wildcats hit the road again next weekend to begin a stretch that will see them play four of five games away from the McKale Center. Arizona will play at Ohio State on Sunday, Dec. 15, at 2 p.m. EST.
FIESTA BOWL WOMEN'S BASKETBALL CLASSIC
Dee-Dee Wheeler - Arizona
Aminata Yanni - Illinois
Tiffanie Guthrie - Illinois
LaKeima Stephens - UC Riverside
Heather Trout - North Texas
TOURNAMENT MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Shawntinice Polk - Arizona