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Game Notes: UC Riverside (2-5) vs Arizona (4-4)
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 12/13/2008
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Dec. 13, 2008

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Date: Sunday, December 14
Time: 2:00 p.m. (MST)
Location: Olson Court, McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: KTUC AM 1400 (Derrick Palmer, Alysiah Bond)

Tip Off Time: Arizona is back home for the second game of a three-game holiday homestand, this time playing an afternoon matinee against Long Beach State. The Cats will return home for their final game before Christmas on Wednesday, December 17 to host UC Riverside. The Wildcats will then be off until travelling to Boise State on December 29 for the final non-conference game of the season.

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.

San Diego Recap: Five Arizona players scored in double figures as a balanced attack was able to hold off visiting San Diego, 66-58, Thursday evening in non-conference play. Ify Ibekwe had 13 of her team-best 17 points in the second half while Amina Njonkou had her second double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds. The Wildcats used a 19-5 second half run to break open a 1-point game and pull away down the stretch. Reiko Thomas and Courtney Clements had 12 points each while Beatrice Bofia came off the bench and tallied 10 first half points for the Cats.

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 a joyous month for the Wildcats since the calendar turned to 2000, owning a 37-21 record in the 12th month of the year. 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: Long Beach State has posted a 14-4 overall record against the Wildcats all-time. However, most of those wins came with former head coach Joan Bonvicini at the 49ers helm. After taking over the Arizona program, she led the Cats to a perfect 4-0 mark against her former employer. Last season, Ify Ibekwe and Amina Njonkou combined for 27 points and 22 rebounds as the Wildcats posted a 66-53 win over the 49ers in Long Beach.

Scouting the 49ers: Long Beach State is currently 2-5 on the season after dropping a 76-44 verdict at Nebraska on Friday evening. The 49ers are averaging 58.6 points per game while allowing 68.3 per contest. A member of the Big West Conference, they are led in scoring with identical 11.9 per game averages by Courtney Jacob and Whitney Fields. The two teams have one common opponent thus far in Loyola Marymount. The Wildcats captured a 93-88 triple-overtmie victory in Hawaii over the Lions while the 49ers dropped a 83-63 decision in Los Angeles on November 24.

Wild West: The Wildcats are playing their second game of the non-conference slate against a Big West Conference opponent after earning a 54-47 victory over UC Santa Barbara here in McKale Center on November 23. The Cats will also entertain UC Riverside, the 3rd-place finisher in the league last season, on Wednesday evening to complete their pre-Christmas homestand. The Cats are also 1-1 against Western Athletic Conference opposition (Hawaii) and 2-0 against teams from the West Coast Conference (LMU and USD).

On This Date: For just the third time in program history, the Wildcats are playing a game on December 14. The first contest on this calendar day came during the 1981-82 season when the Wildcats pulled out a 63-62 win over UC Irvine. Twenty-two seasons later, the Cats finally suited up again on 12/14 and ran away with a 94-56 triumph over Texas State. Dee Dee Wheeler and Aimee Grzyb each had 19 points against TSU as the Cats used a 55-point second half output to put that game away.

Injury Update: The Wildcats avoided any further injuries on Thursday evening and remain with two eligible players on the sidelines. Freshman Jhakia McDonald has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in her right foot and will likely be out 6-7 weeks. 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.

Clement Time: Freshman guard Courtney Clements proved the old adage that the third time is the charm as she displayed the scoring ability the Arizona coaching staff had expected from her in the third game of her collegiate career. After coming off the bench against both Texas A&M and Midlde Tennessee, Clements made her first collegiate start and shared game-high scoring honors with 21 points. Clements, who had scored a total of 10 points in her first two games, connected on 9-of-21 shots against the Lady Techsters, including her first career three-pointer, to boost her scoring average to 10.3 points per game.

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. Fourteen 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 six occasions, including a 53-minute log during the triple-overtime win against Loyola Marymount, and is averaging 39.1 minutes per contest. Jhakia McDonald (36.8), Reiko Thomas (36.4) and Amina Njonkou (34.3) are all logging heavy minutes in their starting roles for the Wildcats.

Free Throw Findings: One place the Wildcats have shown an improvement through the first six 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 72.0 percent free throw percentage as a team. Thomas and Frazier are both shooting over 80 percent while Njonkou is just a few points below that mark at .784. The Cats have also limited the opportunities of the opposition, making 10 more free throws (116) than the opposition has attempted (106).

Double Trouble: Last season, the Wildcats recorded 20 double-doubles and returned 19 of those to the fold with Njonkou and Beatrice Bofia returning for their senior seasons. Along with Ify Ibekwe, the trio have already amassed a combined eight double-doubles, including a 23-point, 18-rebound output by Ibekwe in the season-opening loss to Toledo.

Board Members: Speaking of double-doubles, the Wildcats bring back two of the most ferocious rebounders in the Pac-10 in the form of Njonkou and Ibekwe. 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.

Wiping the Glass: The rebounding prowess has remained intact through most of the first fifth of the season as the Wildcats have outrebounded the opposition in six of the first seven contests. The Cats are averaging just over 42 rebounds per game while allowing the opposition 35.4 rebounds each game. The 6.7 rebounding margin the Wildcats have enjoyed is good enough for 50th in the NCAA and 6th in Pac-10, a stat led both locally and nationally by UCLA at 20.1.

National Notables: Speaking of the NCAA statistics, Ibekwe is tops in the Pac-10 and is currently 10th in the NCAA in rebounds per game at 10.9, besting her sister, Chinyere, who is a senior at UCLA and is averaging 10.6 per game. Njonkou is also among the top 100 nationally at 8.6 rebounds per game. As a team, the Wildcats are also 81st in free throw shooting at 72.0 percent.

Topping the Charts: Twice this season and three times this calendar year two different Wildcats have had an individual rebounding effort that has ranked as one of the best in program history. Beatrice Bofia was the first to do so, pulling down 18 boards against Oregon State back on January 3 in Corvallis. This season, Ibekwe has already twice etched her name among the top 10 all-time. She opened the season with 18 boards against Toledo, then grabbed 19 rebounds in a home victory against UC Santa Barbara.

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.

Toughing It Out: The contest against San Diego on Thursday evening was the first this season in which neither the Wildcats not its opponent jumped out to a significant early advantage. In four of the first seven contests, the Wildcats came racing out of the gates, splitting the four decisions. However, the Cats have also dug a deep hole on three occasions and managed an impressive comeback to earn the triple-overtime victory against Loyola Marymount.

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 two games. The Cats had been averaging over 23 turnovers per contest through the first six games, but have given the ball away a combined 29 times over the last two contests. The Cats even enjoyed a 19-15 victory in turnover margin against the Toreros on Thursday evening, something that had not happened since the victory over UC Santa Barbara.

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 16 three-point shots, an average of just 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 .208.

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 120 fouls through 8 games with only two foul-outs. With an average of just 15 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.

Up and In: Though Arizona has struggled from the field the last three games, the Wildcats can look to the frontcourt for some solid shooting percentages. Ify Ibekwe continues to lead the team with a .519 field goal percentage while Amina Njonkou is an even .500 (34-of-68) in her shooting. Beatrice Bofia has also come off the bench to give the Wildcats 22 made field goals in 49 tries, calculating to a respectable .449 clip.

Turning the Corner: Since failing to shoot over 40 percent in either a half or game over the last three, the Wildcats put together arguably their most complete offensive half on Thursday against San Diego. The Cats shot an outstanding 51.7 percent in the second stanza, tallying 44 points in the process for their highest-scoring 20-minute period of the season.

Home Sweet Home: Though the Wildcats are still looking for their first road win of the season after two defeats, they have certainly enjoyed their three contests here in McKale Center. On the defensive end, Arizona is allowing a stingy 52 points per contest. The Wildcats held UC Santa Barbara to just 10 points in the first half of that win while also limiting #3-ranked Texas A&M to a season-low 54-point output.

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 13 assists against Louisiana Tech and San Diego while committing just three turnovers. She leads the squad with 32 assists, good for a 4.0 per game average, and is just two assists shy of evening her assist-to-turnover margin.

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 #3/4 Stanford, #9/6 California and #22/21 Arizona State during Pac-10 play after having already gone toe-to-toe with #4/3 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.

1,000 Point Club: Last season, senior Ashley Whisonant vaulted up the Arizona all-time scoring list, finishing her career in 5th place with 1,451 points. This season, senior Amina Njonkou has a considerable chance at becoming the 16th player in team history to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Njonkou amassed 691 points in her first three seasons with the Wildcats, including a 392-point tally last season, and has scored 103 points in eight games to run her total to 794. Her current scoring average of 12.9 per game would push her over the 1,000-point mark in 17 more games, or in a televised game on February 15 at USC.

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 wraps up its three-game holiday homestand on Wednesday, December 17 against UC Riverside at 7 p.m. The Wildcats will then hit the road for the final non-conference game of the season on December 29 at Boise State with tip-off there scheduled for 6 p.m.

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