Nov. 25, 2008
Game 5: Arizona (3-1) vs. Texas A&M (3-0)
Date: Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008
Time: 7:00 p.m. (MST)
Location: McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: AM 1400 KTUC (Derrick Palmer, Alysiah Bond)
Tip Off Time: Arizona returns to Olson Court for the second time in just over 48 hours to complete its brief two-game homestand with a Southwest showdown against #7/8-ranked Texas A&M. The Cats will then hit the road for their next two games, visiting Middle Tennessee State on Friday before heading to Louisiana Tech a week from Saturday.
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.
UCSB Recap: A stifling defense limited visiting UC Santa Barbara to just 10 first-half points as the Wildcats won their 2008-09 home opener against the Gauchos, 54-47. Sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe tallied game-highs of 15 points and a career-best 19 rebounds while Reiko Thomas added 11 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. The win marked the sixth year in a row where the Wildcats have come out on top of their first home game of the season, last losing to Louisiana State to open up the 2002-03 campaign.
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).
In November: The opening month of the basketball season has been kind to the Wildcats through their history as they have an overall record of 61-46 including the 3-1 start the current team has amassed. After posting no less than a .500 record since the 1994-95 season, the 2007-08 Wildcats were the first team to have a losing record in the month of November after finishing 2-4.
Series Notes: Arizona holds a 2-1 lead in the brief all-time series with Texas A&M. The teams have met just once previously in the McKale Center with the Wildcats earning a 84-59 victory. Following a 9-year hiatus between meetings, Texas A&M won the most recent contest in College Station by a 64-44 verdict. Current senior Amina Njonkou had 7 points and 7 rebounds in that game for the Wildcats.
Aloha Means Hello: The Wildcats made their fifth-ever trip to the Hawaiian Islands and first since the 1999-2000 season last week, returning home with a pair of wins in three games to improve their all-time record on the islands to 8-7. The trip was the second-straight excursion that saw the team come home with a winning record. In each of the first three visits, the team posted a record of 1-2 in three-game excursions before the 1999-2000 team went unbeaten on its voyage with wins over Oklahoma (75-59), Tennessee Tech (87-71) and the host Hawaii (86-73).
Tournament Time: Arizona opened its season in a tournament for the 13th time in program history. The Wildcats improved their all-time record to 20-13 in those tournament games thanks to a 2-1 record in Hawaii. Last season, the `Cats tipped-off the 2007-08 campaign in University Park, Pennsylvania at the WBCA/Basketball Travelers Classic hosted by Penn State. The `Cats suffered losses to Penn State (87-78) and Pittsburgh (81-58) before knocking off UNC-Charlotte (86-81) in an overtime battle.
Lid-Lifters: The Wildcats are now 21-16 all-time in season-opening games, including a 5-3 mark in games played on a neutral court. Next season, the team will be looking to bounce back from consecutive season-opening losses after this season's 64-63 setback against Toledo.
Scouting the Aggies: Texas A&M enters tonight's game with a record of 3-0 after earning victories over Mercer (73-45), Pittsburgh (56-50) and Michigan (59-56) last week. The Aggies are led by senior guard Takia Starks, who was a preseason 1st-team all-America selection by The Sporting News after earning 1st-team all-Big 12 and honorable mention all-America status last season. The Aggies are coached by Gary Blair, who is in his 24th season overall and his 6th year with the Aggies. Texas A&M reached its first-ever Elite Eight last season after winning the Big 12 Conference Tournament.
Lonestar Lowdown: Arizona has traditionally done quite well against teams from the Lone Star state, posting an all-time record of 28-10. The Wildcats did not face any Texas opponents last season, but they did go 2-1 during the 2006-07 season with wins over TCU and UTEP before falling to the Aggies.
Injury Update: Though the Wildcats came through their first three games with no new injuries to speak of, there are still plenty of team members continuing to nurse previous wounds. Freshman Malia Nahinu continues to be sidelined with a stress fracture in her right leg and is not expected back until after Christmas. Courtney Clements is currently day-to-day as she anxiously awaits the opportunity to make her Arizona debut. The biggest blow, however, comes with news that Tasha Dickey will be having surgery on her right leg and will redshirt the 2008-09 season. An injury she sustained last season continues to flare up, so the medical staff and coaches decided to let her get back to 100 percent with this procedure.
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. Nine times an Arizona player has logged at least 40 minutes of action in one of the games. Ashley Frazier leads the way as she has sat out just two of a possible 175 minutes, including a 53-minute log during the triple-overtime win against Loyola Marymount. Amina Njonkou (45) and Jhakia McDonald (44) also saw extra time against the Lions.
We Hardly Knew You: The Arizona roster was recently trimmed by one spot as junior guard Ipek Turkyilmaz learned that she is no longer eligible to play NCAA Division I basketball. She attended school in her native Turkey and information was retrieved that stated her window of competition started then instead of during her time at Barton County Community College last season. This prevented her from gaining eligibility through the NCAA Clearinghouse, but she will remain with the team as a student manager.
Charity Drive: Though the Wildcats were not able to duplicate the free throw shooting output of .844 against Panhandle State during its trip to Hawaii, the team did connect on 45-of-68 attempts for a respectable .662 percentage. The Wildcats are finding those numbers to be the norm thus far as their team percentage is .663 after making 12-of-18 (.667) against UCSB on Sunday.
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 five 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: With their rebounding trio in fine form in Hawaii, the Wildcats dominated the glass in their first three games with a rebounding edge of 149-101. The difference in averages equates to 49.7 for the Wildcats to just 33.7 for the opposition. The Cats have managed to pull down double-digit offensive rebounds in each contest, holding a 41-36 edge in that category as well. Their prowess on the offensive glass has led to 49 second-chance points in three games, an average of over 16 per game.
Topping the Charts: For the second time in less than 10 days, sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe set a career-high in rebounds, pulling down 19 boards on Sunday afternoon against UC Santa Barbara. Her output matched the 2nd-highest single-game total in program history, the third time that number had been posted by a Wildcat player.
Unlucky Number 18: For the second time in 11 months and just nine days prior to the 19-rebound performance by Ibekwe, the 2008 all-Pac-10 Freshman Team selection started the 2008-09 season with 18 boards in the loss to Toledo. Her tally matched the total Bofia tallied against Oregon State on January 3, 2008 in Corvallis, Ore. In both cases, however, the Wildcats lost the game. The total matched the 4th-best in program history, a mark that has now been achieved nine times by seven different players.
Early Risers: Other than its anemic start to the Loyola Marymount game, the Wildcats have shown the pension to be a very strong starting team. The Cats have built double-digit leads in each of the past two games. Those leads have helped the team keep a comfortable cushion for much of the game and sustain comeback attempts by the opponent before holding on for 12- and 7-point victories, respectively.
Turn It Over: One area the Wildcats showed marked improvement from their first three games on Sunday afternoon was in the turnover department, committing just 13 miscues for the contest. The Wildcats had been averaging over 23 turnovers per game, a number which had created a greater premium on each offensive possession. Despite the slow tempo to the game, the Wildcats were still able to attempt 54 field goals and 18 free throws.
Dial 3: Three-point shooting was an achilles heel for the Wildcats last season. Through three games in 2008-09, the Wildcats have shown steady improvement in each contest thus far. After making just 1-of-11 attempts (.091) in the season opener, Arizona knocked down 4-of-14 (.286) from distance against LMU before hitting 4-of-9 three-pointers (.444) while beating Hawaii. Though the Cats made just 2-of-8 (.250) against the Gauchos, each one came at a crucial point in the game when points were at a premium.
Up and In: A reliance on the frontcourt has seen the Wildcats tally an impressive 44.3 percent field goal mark (102-of-230) from the field through the first three games, a mark that is good enough for third in the Pac-10 early on. Instead of relying on the outside shot, the Wildcats have worked the ball inside and penetrated the lane, averaging just one 3-point attempt for every 5.48 field goal attempts.
Defensive Attitude: The Arizona defense has shown the ability to make adjustments in each game and has been a big reason the team is off to such a solid start to the season. The Wildcats are allowing just 62.2 points per game, good for 5th in the Pac-10 thus far. However, that number does not account for the 15 extra minutes played against Loyola Marymount. Based on an average scoring amount from the overtime periods compared to 40-minute stretches of play, the Cats would be allowing just 59.6 points per contest, a number that would rank them 4th in the Pac-10.
Queen Bea: Reserve center Beatrice Bofia came off the bench in the two Arizona wins last week and instantly established herself as a vital role player for the Wildcats. In the two victories, Bofia connected on 14-of-23 shots (.609) and recorded a pair of double-doubles while playing 31 and 32 minutes against LMU and Hawaii, respectively. She tallied a career-best 17 points to go along with 11 rebounds and two blocked shots against the Lions. She followed that up with 14 points, 17 rebounds and two blocked shots against the Rainbow Wahine. Her 17 boards were one off of her career-high of 18 set last season at Oregon State. Her .577 field goal percentage leads the Wildcats and is tied for 8th in the Pac-10.
High-Faih: Another player to jump off the bench and make a significant impact for the Wildcats last week was sophomore walk-on Faihza Hill. Making her regular season debut after joining thte team midway through last season, Hill promptly stepped onto the floor and knocked down her first career field goal attempt, a three-pointer that stopped the 22-6 start to the Loyola Marymount game. In all, she made her first four shot attempts, two from behind the arc, and finished with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting in 21 minutes of play. A day later, she was 2-of-4 from the field, making both of her three-point shots, and added six points and a rebound in 16 quality minutes off the bench.
Simply The Best: The Wildcats will have their hands full this season as they play a challenging 29-game regular season schedule. With the Associated Press Preseason Poll being released on November 1, the Wildcats are set to play seven games against teams ranked in the initial top 25. The Cats have two games each against #5 Stanford, #3 California and #21 Arizona State during Pac-10 play after they entertain #7/8-ranked Texas A&M in McKale Center next Tuesday, November 25.
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 59 points in three games to run her total to 750. Her current scoring average of 14.8 per game would push her over the 1,000-point mark in 17 more games, or here in McKale Center on February 5 against Oregon State.
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 maintained 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.
Seeing Double: A quick look at the top of the Pac-10 rebounding charts shows two players with the last name of Ibekwe in the top two positions. Ify is currently second in rebounding while her older sister, Chinyere, leads both UCLA and the Pac-10 at 12.7 boards per contest.
Up Next: The Wildcats hit the road for single games at Middle Tennessee State (Nov. 28) and Lousiana Tech (Dec. 6) before returning home to start a three-game holiday homestand on Dec. 11 against San Diego. Following a brief hiatus for Christmas, the Wildcats will wrap up the 2008 calendar year with a return trip to Boise State on December 29 after the Broncos came to Tucson last Winter.