Sept. 6, 2002
The 2002-03 Arizona women's basketball team has depth, lots of it, and that's something the Cats haven't had in a long time. Head coach Joan Bonvicini is hoping that this will be the key to the Wildcats' return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
"We have some great returning players and a good group of new players, some of whom will have an impact immediately," said Bonvicini, who is beginning her 12th year at the helm of the Arizona program. "More than anything, we're looking for a fresh start because we obviously could have been a much better team than 14-14 a year ago. We feel we're a much better team than what we showed last year, and we need to go out and prove it."
The Cats are carrying a roster of 15 players, which is a great comfort for a program that has been decimated by injuries over the last two years. There's just one hitch -- only seven of those 15 players have ever seen action in an Arizona uniform.
"We have a lot of people who haven't played for us before, so there's going to be a big learning curve," said Bonvicini. "Some will learn quicker than others, and everyone is going to be in a trial-by-fire situation immediately. We are going to play some great teams right out of the gates."
The upside is that, of the seven returning letterwinners, four were starters last year. Two of those returning starters are the only two seniors on this year's squad -- Krista Warren and Julie Brase.
A 6-2 forward, Warren led Arizona and was fifth in the Pac-10 in rebounding last season, averaging 8.1 boards per game. She also registered 8.2 points per game while starting 22 contests. Warren is a prime candidate for the starting job at the four and could be a great complement to redshirt freshman Shawntinice Polk inside.
Guard Julie Brase returned to action last year after missing the 2000-01 season due to wrist surgery. In 2001-02, she recorded 5.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while playing in all but one of the season's contests. Brase will be part of the mix for starting jobs in the Cats' greatly improved backcourt this year.
Two junior guards -- Aimee Grzyb and Candice Allen -- will play vital roles in the Wildcat guard corps this season.
Always a threat from three-point range, Grzyb saw action in every game last year, receiving the starting nod in all but three. She upped her scoring average to 10.8 points per game and was the third-leading scorer for the Cats last season. Currently fourth on the UA career lists in both three-pointers made (100) and attempted (276), Grzyb finished eighth in the Pac-10 in three-point percentage (.360) in 2002.
Despite missing seven games due to a concussion, Candice Allen still finished the 2001-02 season with averages of 10.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. She was Arizona's fourth-leading scorer, and her steals average was fifth-best in the Pac-10 for the season. Allen's athleticism and quickness have helped her emerge as one of the top defenders on the team.
The 2002 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, sophomore guard Dee-Dee Wheeler is the anticipated starter at point for the Cats this season. She played in every contest last year, starting all but four, and posted averages of 12.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. An outstanding shooter from beyond the arc, she was fifth in the Pac-10 in three-point percentage (.404), and she reached double digits in scoring in 19 games.
Also a sophomore, Danielle Adefeso will provide added depth to the Wildcat frontcourt. A 6-2 center, Adefeso was one of the Cats' top substitute posts while playing in 23 contests last year. She really started coming on strong late in the season, averaging 4.0 points and 3.3 rebounds over the final six games of the year, and is expected to build on that success this season.
Another sophomore guard, Robin Roberson will be redshirting this year. She played in all but two games last season, averaging 4.8 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. Roberson also shot 37.5 percent from three-point range for a squad that just missed setting a new school records for three-pointers made in a season.
With eight new faces in UA uniforms, this year could prove to be an exciting one. Redshirt freshman guard Katrina Lindner is the only "newcomer" who already has a full year at the UA under her belt. One of the prime candidates for a starting job at the point last season, Lindner suffered an ACL tear during the team's annual Red & Blue intra-squad game on Oct. 30, 2001, and was forced to redshirt for the year. A native of Glengowrie, South Australia, Lindner is a quick, tough player who can shoot from virtually anywhere on the floor.
One of the highest-profile recruits ever to sign at Arizona, redshirt freshman Shawntinice Polk will finally see action this season after joining the program midway through last year. A 2001 first team All-American, the 6-5 Polk averaged 16.1 points and 13.1 rebounds per game for Hanford (Calif.) High School as a senior. Polk originally signed with the Cats in the fall of 2000 but did not qualify academically to play during the 2001-02 season. She arrived on-campus in January of 2002 and earned a redshirt year, so the Wildcats will have her for four full seasons.
"We'll have a good post game this year, especially with the addition of Shawntinice Polk," said Bonvicini. "I've been fortunate to coach some great players in my career, but I think she has the potential to be one of the very special ones. She's someone who could have an impact immediately."
Two junior college transfers will provide this young Wildcat team with some valuable experience. A 6-2 forward from Sarajevo, Bosnia, Svjetlana Papcevic averaged 14.4 ppg and 8.9 rpg playing at Pratt (Kans.) Community College over the last two seasons. In 2002, she racked up 484 points and was named second team All-Region IV and third team All-KJCCC Western Division.
A 5-10 wing, Jessica Duger transferred to the UA from Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz., midway through last season and earned a redshirt year after making the team as a walk-on. A native of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., Duger tallied 637 points and 300 rebounds in two seasons at Yavapai. As a sophomore in 2000-01, she earned first team All-Region I and All-ACCAC honors after leading the Roughriders in both scoring and rebounding.
Four true freshmen round out the list of Wildcat newcomers. A 5-10 guard from Anchorage, Alaska, Natalie Jones was a Parade All-American and was the 2002 USA Today Alaska Player of the Year after leading East Anchorage High School to its third straight state championship. The Thunderbirds posted a 102-8 record during her four years with the program. Jones is expected to have an immediate impact for Arizona and may even press for a starting job right away.
Only the second Canadian ever signed by Bonvicini at Arizona, 6-1 forward Anna Chappell was three-time Most Valuable Player for Kwalicum Senior Secondary in Qualicum Beach, British Columbia. Named both a Provincial All-Star and and Island All-Star in 2002, Chappell led the Kondors to a North Island League championship last year.
With the reputation of being a tough defender, 6-0 forward Donnisha "CoCoa" Sanford is from Morningside High School in Inglewood, Calif. She is the career rebounding record-holder at Morningside, with 1,517 boards, and put up averages of 17.3 ppg, 13.7 rpg and 5.0 spg as a senior while leading the Monarchs to a CIF Div-3A semifinals berth. A standout 400-meter sprinter, Sanford is expected to compete for the UA track and field team as well.
A 5-11 perimeter player from El Paso, Texas, Phakisha Peterson was a two-time honorable mention All-Texas selection and four-time All-District I-5A honoree at Andress High School. She was also two-time District MVP and averaged 21.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game as a senior with the Eagles. A versatile player, Peterson could see time in both the frontcourt and the backcourt for the Cats.
"With Shawntinice up front, our post game is going to become a strength. Our quickness in the backcourt has improved tremendously, and we have good size in our guards," said Bonvicini. "We have some great guards coming back, and if you add Natalie Jones and Phakisha Peterson into that mix, I really like our depth in the backcourt.
"As for the frontcourt, we have Krista Warren and Danielle Adefeso returning, and we will have a good player in Svjetlana Papcevic, who has solid experience and who, at 6-2, is a nice complement to Shawntinice. Anna Chappell should figure into that mix as well.
"Our athleticism, particularly at the guard spot, has improved, and we're going to be bigger up front. We have a big post player to build things around. She's going to create a different look not only for us but also for teams going up against us."
The biggest challenge for the Wildcats this year will actually be the schedule itself. Ten of the 19 teams on the 2002-03 slate were either ranked or receiving votes for ranking at the end of last season, and 14 of the 19 teams saw postseason action last year. Eight of this year's opponents earned NCAA tournament berths in 2002, with Stanford making a Sweet Sixteen appearance. For the second straight year, the Wildcats will face the defending WNIT champion, as Pac-10 foe Oregon swept through that tournament last year to take the title. Five other 2003 opponents made the WNIT field as well.
The Cats won't have much time to get acclimated to the new season before they'll be confronted by one of the toughest teams on this year's schedule. After three exhibition games, the Cats will face Louisiana State in the season opener at home on Friday, Nov. 22. Three days later, Arizona will play a difficult road game at Pepperdine, the 2002 West Coast Conference champion. A return to Tucson won't make things any easier for the Cats after that, as the UA plays host to perennial powerhouse Georgia on Saturday, Nov. 30.
Illinois, North Texas and UC Riverside will all travel to the Old Pueblo for the 12th annual Fiesta Bowl Women's Basketball Classic on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7 and 8. The Fighting Illini and North Texas will face off in the first game of day one, followed by the Wildcats against UC Riverside. Consolation and championship games will be played on Dec. 8.
At that point, Arizona will face the daunting challenge of playing 10 of its next 15 games on the road. The Wildcats will play at Ohio State on Sunday, Dec. 15, then will return home to take on New Mexico on Dec. 18. Four days later, the Cats will be on the road again, playing at UNLV on Sunday, Dec. 22.
Arizona opens Pac-10 play on the road this year, playing at California and Stanford on Dec. 27 and 29, respectively. The first weekend of the new year will find the Cats at home against the Oregon schools, then the UA hits the road once more to play at Washington State (Jan. 9) and Washington (Jan. 11). The Wildcats will face USC (Jan. 16) and UCLA (Jan 18) at home before wrapping up the first round of conference play at Arizona State on Jan. 23.
The Cats play their final non-conference game of the season at Wisconsin on Sunday, Jan. 26, before beginning the second round of Pac-10 action at Oregon State (Jan. 30) and Oregon (Feb. 1). Regular-season action ends for the UA against Stanford (Feb. 27) and California (Mar. 1) at home, and the Cats are hoping they will be at that point in line for a high seed in the Pac-10 Conference Tournament, which will be held in San Jose, Calif., on Mar. 7-10.
"We are really going to be challenged this year. LSU, who will have one of the top freshmen in the nation, will be here in our opener. Georgia has a great team and has an excellent post player in Kara Braxton, so that will be a tremendous game," said Bonvicini. "We're going on the road at Pepperdine, which will be a tough place to play. That's just the start of the season, so we'll be tested right away.
"We have a non-conference schedule that may be the toughest I've had since I've been at Arizona, but I feel good about that. We're definitely going to be prepared going into conference play, and the conference is going to be tough again. You'd have to say that Stanford, on paper, will be the team to beat. USC, Oregon, Arizona State and Washington are all going to be good. There are no easy games in this league.
"I have a lot of confidence in our team, though. We have good leadership now. We have players who are working hard. We have people who are going to have a great deal of pride in representing Arizona and who really understand what that means. We have a great staff. We're going to have a really good team this year."