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Game Notes: Dec. 31, 2008
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 12/31/2008
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Dec. 31, 2008

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Tip Off Time: As the calendar has now turned to 2009, so has the task at hand turned to the 18-game Pac-10 Conference slate as the Wildcats open the league schedule against #13/9-ranked California on Friday evening. The Cats will return to the Olson Court less than 48 hours later to take on #11/8-ranked Stanford to complete the first of nine weekends of conference play.

Catch the Action: Entering his second season calling Arizona women's basketball games will be Derrick Palmer. He will be joined by Alysiah Bond, the Arizona women’s basketball director of operations and former collegiate point guard at The Ohio State University. Wildcat games can be heard live on KTUC AM 1400. All broadcasts will start 30 minutes prior to tip-off for the pre-game show. Please visit www.arizonaathletics.com for all of your live stats, audio and video needs.

Boise State Recap: Amidst a host of impressive performances, this last one was no doubt the finest for sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe, who tallied career-bests of 26 points and 20 rebounds, leading the Wildcats to a 53-48 comeback win over host Boise State on Monday evening. Freshman guard Reiko Thomas also chipped in with 11 points as the Wildcats won their fourth-straight game and picked up a much-needed road victory after coming up empty in a pair of previous attempts away from the friendly confines of the McKale Center.

Head Coach Niya Butts: Not only has the Arizona playing roster seen its share of turnover, but the coaching staff is also entirely new for the 2008-09 season. On April 3, 2008, Niya Butts was named the 8th coach in the history of Arizona women’s basketball. Butts comes to Tucson after spending the last five seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky. During her time with the Wildcats, she helped guide the team to a 88-72 record (.550) that included three WNIT appearances and a berth in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. Prior to her time in Lexington, Butts was an assistant coach at Michigan State during the 2002-03 season. That year, the Spartans made their first NCAA appearance in six seasons after posting an overall record of 17-12. She began her coaching career at Tennessee Tech, leading the Golden Eaglettes to back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference regular season titles in 2001 and 2002.

Butts is one of many head coaches in the NCAA ranks who played for the legendary Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee, graduating in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in social work and a minor in psychology. A four-year letterwinner with the Lady Vols, Butts was a two-time NCAA champion (1997, 1998), three-time winner of the SEC championship (1998, 1999, 2000) and was chosen the SEC Defensive Player of the Year after her 1997 freshman campaign. She also excelled in the classroom and was three times named an Academic All-SEC selection (1998, 1999, 2000).

Holiday Cheer: The month of December has been and continued to be a joyous month for the Wildcats since the calendar turned to 2000. Including the recently-completed 4-1 stretch of games, the Wildcats now own a 41-22 record in the 12th month of the year in this decade. Last season, the Wildcats won four-straight before dropping their final non-conference game as well as the opening two contests of Pac-10 competition. The 2003-04 squad was a perfect 7-0 in December while the Wildcat team of the following season dropped just one of seven contests.

Series Notes: California currently owns a 29-19 lead in the all-time series against the Wildcats. The Golden Bears have won the last five meetings between the two teams, including each of the past three here in Tucson. The last Arizona victory came during the 2005-06 season as the Wildcats picked up a 80-76 win in Berkeley. Last season, the Wildcats battled through a close first half, but made just 4-of-26 (15.4%) in the second half in dropping a 66-45 decision to the Golden Bears.

Scouting the Golden Bears: California is currently 9-2 on the season and is ranked #13 in the Associated Press Poll while checking in a #9 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. Two-time all-American Ashley Walker leads the Bears in scoring at 22.5 points per game and recently became the program’s second all-time leading rebounder as she averages 8.3 boards per contest. The Bears recently welcomed back Devanei Hampton back to the starting lineup, another two-time all-American who is still recovering from off-season knee surgery.

Wild West: The Wildcats enjoyed playing a good deal of their non-conference slate against teams from the West Coast. Including the recent victory over Boise State, the Cats finished with a 2-1 record against Western Athletic Conference foes. The Cats picked up a 62-50 win over Hawaii in mid-November before dropping a 68-53 decision at Louisiana Tech. Arizona also picked up three wins against Big West Conference opposition and went 2-0 against teams from the West Coast Conference (Loyola Marymount and San Diego).

Future Cats: Head coach Niya Butts was happy to announce the signing of the first two players for the 2009 signing class earlier in the season. Senior guard Davellyn White of St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix is the first prep player to sign a National Letter of Intent to play for Butts. Whyte, the daughter of former Major League Baseball veteran Devon White, averaged 18 points per game in her junior campaign, leading the Lady Knights to a 19-9 record and the 5A Desert Valley Region championship. She was an all-state selection and was the runner-up in the region player of the year voting.

Joining Whyte with three years of eligibility remaining is Brooke Jackson, who is currently a freshman at Mesa Community College. A 5’9” shooting guard, Jackson prepped at Mountain View High School and was a two-time East Valley Region Player of the Year and two-time all-state selection. She is the 5A all-time single-season leader in scoring after tallying 849 points as a junior. Jackson also holds state 5A records for free throws made in a game (18) and season (216) as well as career steals (482). A solid outside shooter, Jackson finished her prep career with a 41 percent mark from three-point range.

Injury Update: Though status quo could be thought of as a positive thing on the injury front for the Wildcats, they will still be without two key perimeter players the rest of the season. Freshman Jhakia McDonald has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in her right foot while Tasha Dickey also had season-ending surgery on her foot earlier this month. Malia Nahinu, who has been battling through a similar injury, has been cleared to play and will see her first collegiate action as head coach Niya Butts deems her ready to contribute.

Going the Distance: With a roster depleted due to injuries, the active and healthy Wildcats have seen their share of minutes through the first three games of the season. Twelve times this season an Arizona player has logged at least 40 minutes of action in one of the games. Ashley Frazier leads the way as she has played all 40 minutes on seven occasions, including a 53-minute log during the triple-overtime win against Loyola Marymount, and is averaging a Pac-10 leading 39.4 minutes per contest. Reiko Thomas (36.4), Amina Njonkou (32.1) and Ibekwe (31.6) are also logging heavy minutes in their starting roles for the Wildcats.

Free Throw Findings: One place the Wildcats have shown an improvement through the first 11 games of 2008-09 versus last season is at the free throw line. After connecting at a .652 clip one season ago, the Cats currently own a 74.4 percent free throw percentage as a team. Since hitting 8-of-12 in the loss to Louisiana Tech, the Wildcats have made 58-of-72 freebies (.806) over the past four games. Thomas leads the team with a .860 mark and has made 30-of-33 attempts (.909) while Frazier (.750) and Njonkou (.744) have shown some consistency. The Cats have also limited the opportunities of the opposition, making 37 more free throws (160) than the opposition has attempted (123).

Board Members: The Wildcats returned two of the most ferocious rebounders in the Pac-10 in the form of Njonkou and Ibekwe this season. Njonkou held the total team lead and finished 4th in the conference with 221 rebounds while Ibekwe was 9th in the league with 192 boards despite missing six games due to an eye injury. On a per game basis, however, Ibekwe was 4th with an 8.0 average while Njonkou was one place behind her at 7.4 per contest. The duo also combined for 19 of the team’s 20 double-doubles last season, getting one more from Beatrice Bofia against Oregon State.

Wiping the Glass: The rebounding prowess has remained intact through the non-conference portion of the season as the Wildcats have outrebounded the opposition in nine of the first 11 contests. The Cats are averaging 42.7 rebounds per game while allowing the opposition 35.4 rebounds each game. The 7.3 rebounding margin the Wildcats have enjoyed is good for a tie for 31st with DePaul on a national level and 6th in Pac-10. The Wildcats rank 3rd in offensive rebounds (16.0) and 4th in defensive rebounds (26.7) per contest.

National Notables: Speaking of the NCAA statistics, Ibekwe is tops in the Pac-10 and is currently 6th in the NCAA in rebounds per game at 12.6. As a team, the Wildcats are ranked 42nd as a team in free throw shooting at 74.4 percent with Thomas checking in at 63rd on the individual charts.

Topping the Charts: Three times this season, Ibekwe has placed her name on the top 10 single-game rebounding list. She opened the season with 18 boards against Toledo, then grabbed 19 rebounds in a home victory against UC Santa Barbara nine days later before her 20-rebound output on Monday evening against Boise State.

Incredible Ify: It would be impossible to overstate the impact that Ibekwe had on the Arizona victory over Boise State on Monday evening. Her 26-point, 20-rebound performance was the first 20-20 game in program history and only the third in the NCAA thus far in 2008-09. She now owns three of the top four individual single-game rebounding totals in team history and is on pace to shatter the season record for rebounds per game of 10.8 set by the late Shawntinice Polk in the 2002-03 campaign. She is also on pace to register 19 double-doubles, a total that would place her just two behind Polk’s 2003 total of 21 on the Arizona single-season list.

Accumulating the Accolades: Not only was Ibekwe named the Pac-10 Player of the Week in December, she was recently named to the Naismith Award early season watch list. As one of 49 players and just three from the Pac-10 chosen to the initial list, Ibekwe will have an opportunity to remain on the semifinal list of 30 players when the Atlanta Tipoff Club has its voting members cast their ballots in February.

Unlucky Number 18: Despite the impressive individual outings by Ibekwe and Bofia in their 18-rebound efforts, the Wildcats came up on the losing end of each contest. However, the Cats made amends a week later by earning the win against UC Santa Barbara with the 19 rebounds tallied by Ibekwe. Including the other 10 games listed in the graphic above, the Wildcats are a perfect 4-0 when an Arizona player has at least 19 rebounds and 5-4 with a player tallying 18 rebounds.

Turn It Over: After struggling to take care of the ball through the first month of the season, the Wildcats have been much crisper with their possessions over the past five games. The Cats had been averaging over 23 turnovers per contest through the first six games, but have given the ball away no more than 15 times over the last five contests. The Cats enjoyed a 19-15 victory in turnover margin against San Diego and most recently forced 21 takeaways while committing 15 giveaways against Boise State. The Wildcats had not accomplished that since knocking off UC Santa Barbara, but have now done it three times in the past four games and, by no coincidence, are a perfect 4-0 when winning that stat line.

Dial 3: Three-point shooting continues to be a point of weakness for the Wildcats through the first six games of the season. As a team, the Cats have connected on just 22 three-point shots, an average of two per game, while the opposition is averaging over six made three-pointers per game. Arizona is also last in the Pac-10 in three-point percentage at .210.

No Foul Play: One area on the stat sheet that does seem to be falling in the favor of the Wildcats is personal fouls. The Cats have committed just 154 fouls through 11 games with only two foul-outs. With an average of just 14 fouls committed per game, the propensity not to foul as well as their solid conversion rate at the free throw line has helped the Wildcats make up for the 12 points lost per game in the three-point battle.

Defending Their Home: The Wildcats have shown that the McKale Center will not be an easy place for visiting teams to come in 2008-09. In five home contests thus far, the Wildcats are allowing a meager 50.8 points per game on Olson Court. The Cats have held the oppositon under 50 points on three occasions and allowed #3-ranked Texas A&M just 54 points in a hard-fought loss last month.

Road Redemption: Arizona was finally able to get the road monkey off its back on Monday night with a strong second half defensive showing for the victory over the Broncos. Prior to that, the Wildcats had struggled defensively away from home, allowing 77 and 68 points in their two losses for an average of 72.5 per game.

Dishing It Up: Junior point guard Ashley Frazier has put together her two most productive games as a Wildcat over the past week and is showing signs of making the transition from junior college point guard to NCAA Division I floor general. Frazier has combined to dish out 24 assists over the past five games while committing no more than three turnovers in any game. She leads the squad with 46 assists, good for a 4.2 per game average, and with her 5:1 ratio against Boise State was able to send her assist-to-turnover ratio over the 1.0 mark for the first time this season.

Simply The Best: The Wildcats will have their hands full this season as they play a challenging 29-game regular season schedule. Looking at the most recent polls released this past week, the Wildcats are set to play seven games against teams ranked in the top 25. The Cats have two games each against #11/8 Stanford, #13/9 California and Arizona State, who only recently dropped out of the Top 25, during Pac-10 play after having already gone toe-to-toe with #3/3 Texas A&M. The Cats have also played Middle Tennessee, a team that jumped out to a 5-1 start and has received votes several times already this season.
NOTE: All coaches poll references are listed with the Associated Press poll first followed by the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.

Against All Odds: The difficult slate of games the Wildcats face this season includes some impressive credentials boasted by its opponents. Of the 20 teams the Cats face during the 2008-09 campaign, eight of them were postseason participants. Six of those teams took part in the NCAA Tournament and amassed a record of 10-5 that included a run by Stanford to the championship game. Two other teams each went 1-1 in the postseason NIT and three of the eight teams won at least a share of their respective regular season conference titles.

Working Their Way Up: Arizona was handed the dubious honor of being picked last among all Pac-10 teams when the Preseason Coaches Poll was released in late October. Defending champion Stanford earned the top spot, edging Bay Area rival California by just two points thanks to a 6-4 advantage in first place votes. The Cats, meanwhile, got just 16 total points, finishing four points behind Washington State for 9th position. In the recently released media poll, the Wildcats were picked to finish 9th in the conference.

Care To Speculate: Sophomore Ify Ibekwe had an outstanding freshman campaign derailed for six games midway through the season after taking an elbow to the eye. She still managed to pull down 232 rebounds, good for 4th on the single-season list for freshmen. If she had been able to play in all 30 games and maintain her 8.0 average, she would have moved up to third position and would have recorded the 7th-best single season in school history for any class. Assuming Ibekwe played in 30 games for four seasons and kept her rebounding average the same, she would finish with 960 rebounds, a total that would make her the Wildcats’ all-time leading rebounder ahead of current record holder Adia Barnes at 921. This season, she has pushed that mark to 11.4 per game through the first fifth of the season, an average that would leave her at 339 through 29 games and match the single-season record set by Shawntinice Polk in 2003-04.

Up Next: Arizona is back home on Sunday afternoon to complete the opening weekend of Pac-10 Conference play against #11/8-ranked Stanford with tip-off on Olson Court scheduled for 2 p.m. Next week, the Wildcats will make their first conference road trip to take on the Oregon schools. The Wildcats visit the Ducks in Eugene on Thursday, January 8 before heading down the I-5 to tangle with the Beavers. Both games are set to start at 7 p.m.

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