The winningest coach in Arizona women’s basketball history, Joan Bonvicini has taken the Wildcat program from obscurity into the national limelight. In her 15 seasons at the helm, Bonvicini has guided the Wildcats to nine postseason appearances, including seven NCAA Tournament berths and a WNIT Championship.
One of the most respected coaches in the game, Bonvicini was chosen in 1991 to direct The University of Arizona’s dormant women’s basketball program into the next decade. Since her arrival, she has taken the Wildcat program and turned it upside down. The team, never before linked with the Pac-10 Conference powers, is now among the feared competitors in the league. Attendance has skyrocketed ?- Arizona ranks among the conference leaders ?- and nationally recognized recruits are visiting Arizona and signing on to play.
Under Bonvicini’s tutelage, the Wildcats have finished in the upper tier of the Pac-10 in nine of the last 11 years, and in 2003-04 won a share of the conference regular-season title for the first time in school history. During this time, Arizona has been nationally ranked multiple times, including a best ever ranking of No. 7 in 1998.
Bonvicini’s success is mirrored in her players’ accolades. She has produced one All-American, five honorable mention All-America selections, a Pac-10 Player of the Year, three Pac-10 Freshmen of the Year, 22 All-Pac-10 honorees, 17 Pac-10 All-Freshman Team choices and 14 Academic All-Pac-10 selections.
Bonvicini herself has earned her share of laurels, having three times been a finalist for the Naismith College Coach of the Year Award and the Associated Press College Coach of the Year Award. She was also the 1998 WBCA Region 8 and Pac-10 Coach of the Year.
Bonvicini holds a 266-182 (.594) mark at Arizona and is 591-253 (.700) in 27 years as a head coach. She has a career record of 24-17 in NCAA Tournament play and has lost just two first-round games in 17 tourney appearances.
Throughout Bonvicini’s tenure at Arizona, the Wildcats have re-written the women’s basketball record book and have chalked up many historical moments.
Last season, Bonvicini faced the biggest challenge of her coaching career as she was forced to lead the Wildcats through the season after the unexpected death of three-time honorable mention All-American Shawntinice Polk. Without a significant inside presence, Arizona posted an 8-22 record, the lowest win total in Bonvicini’s tenure.
During the 2004-05 season, despite being riddled with injuries, Bonvicini led the Wildcats to their eighth 20-win season in 10 years, as the team went 20-12 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
In 2003-04, the team had the program’s best season in four years, garnering a 24-9 overall record and making its second-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats tied the program’s best-ever conference record with a 14-4 mark in Pac-10 play, tying Stanford for the regular-season title and earning the program’s first-ever conference championship.
The 2004 Cats tied or broke 36 school records, including best home record (14-0), most field goals made in a season (919) and most individual rebounds in a season (Shawntinice Polk, 339).
After an “off” season with a 14-14 mark in 2001-02, Bonvicini brought her Wildcats roaring back onto the national scene in 2002-03. The team went 22-9 and earned the most victories for any squad in three years. The Cats were 13-5 in Pac-10 play and finished in a tie for second place with Washington. The Cats were runners-up in the second annual Pac-10 Conference Tournament and earned an at-large bid to the 2003 NCAA Tournament, making the Big Dance for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
During the 2000-01 season, Bonvicini guided a young and inexperienced group of Wildcats through a season of adversity to garner a 20-12 mark. The Cats tied the 2000 team for the best start (14-2) in the history of the program and set or tied 39 school records.
In the summer of 2001, Bonvicini took her team on a 16-day tour of Italy, their second such visit to that country. The squad earned a 5-1 mark on that trip, even though only seven Wildcats were available to play.
The 1999-2000 squad finished in the top four of the Pac-10 for the fifth consecutive year and earned the program’s fourth straight NCAA bid. The Cats finished the year with a 25-7 mark, the best overall record in the history of the program. Arizona went 13-5 in Pac-10 play, tying for second place and equaling the team’s highest conference finish ever.
Despite having what some considered a “rebuilding” year in 1999, Bonvicini guided the Cats to their third NCAA Tournament appearance in as many years. That young, inexperienced squad garnered an 18-11 record and finished fourth in the league standings.
During the summer of 1997, Bonvicini took the Wildcats on a first-ever trip to Australia, in order to prep them for an important upcoming 1998 season. Despite facing experienced international talent, she directed the Cats to a 7-1 mark over the 18-day tour.
That trip provided the Wildcats with a vital bonding experience that stuck with them into the 1997-98 season and aided in the program’s then best-ever Pac-10 mark of 14-4. Arizona, which tied UCLA for second in the league standings, finished the regular season with a 21-6 record -- the program’s fewest number of losses in 23 years.
Bonvicini’s 1998 Wildcats had one All-American, one All-Pac-10 honoree, four honorable mention All-Pac-10 players and one Pac-10 All-Freshman Team member, as well as the Pac-10 Player of the Year. Nominated for both Naismith College Coach of the Year and Associated Press Coach of the Year, Bonvicini capped the regular season by earning her first-ever Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors. She then led Arizona women’s basketball further into uncharted territory, as the Wildcats made the Sweet 16 while in only their second-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
After finishing the 1997 season with a school-record 22 regular-season wins, Bonvicini’s Wildcats earned the school’s first bid to the NCAA Tournament. A win over Western Kentucky in the first game maintained Bonvicini’s undefeated record in first-round NCAA competition, and the Cats went on to strongly challenge No. 6 Georgia in the second round.
In 1996, Bonvicini’s team made Wildcat history with their first-ever postseason appearance, where they brought home the WNIT Championship trophy.
In the summer of 1993, Bonvicini took her team on a 13-day, six-game tour of France and Italy. It was a first for any women’s team at Arizona and the results paid off. The team formed a cohesive unit entering the 1993-94 season, opening with a four-game winning streak that was snapped only by a two-point loss to No. 1 Tennessee in McKale Memorial Center. The team finished with the most victories since 1986 and the most Pacific-10 Conference wins ever at the time.
In Bonvicini’s second season, the 1992-93 campaign, the Cats produced the most victories by an Arizona squad since 1986. They split every Pac-10 road trip, upset No. 23 California and won at UCLA for the first time ever. Crowd support was at an all-time high as the Cats ranked third in the Pac-10 in attendance.
In 1991-92, her first season with the Cats, Bonvicini brought fans out in record numbers. Attendance nearly tripled, and the spirited coach led her team to upsets over her former team, No. 25 Long Beach State, and its first-ever win over Washington.
Bonvicini has implemented a recruiting effort that sweeps the nation; she and her assistants spend countless hours and thousands of miles criss-crossing the country looking for the nation’s finest talent. Her first true recruiting class, in 1992, was ranked seventh in the nation by the Blue Star Report. In 1994, Bonvicini had what she called her “finest recruiting class” since arriving in Tucson. It proved to be true as Adia Barnes was named Pac-10 Conference Freshman of the Year in 1995, and in 1998 was chosen the Pac-10 Player of the Year, as well as a third team All-American. The members of that recruiting class graduated years ago, but they will forever be remembered as the foundation upon which a nationally-prominent Arizona women’s basketball program was built.
Bonvicini came to Arizona after concluding a 12-year tenure at Long Beach State, where she compiled a record of 325-71 (.820). Her teams captured 10 Big West Conference titles, never winning less than 24 games in a season.
During her tenure, the 49ers made 10 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and reached the elite level twice, appearing in the Final Four during both the 1987 and 1988 seasons. Her teams were ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll each year, staying in the Top 10 every year but one. The 1985 squad finished the season at No. 3 with a 28-3 record.
Bonvicini’s players earned recognition as well. Among her players at Long Beach were 1983 Wade Trophy winner and three-time first team All-American LaTaunya Pollard, two-time first team All-American and 1988 U.S. Olympic Team member Cindy Brown, 1985 first team All-American Kirsten Cummings and two-time first team All-American Penny Toler.
Many of Bonvicini’s former players have gone on to play at the professional level. Five former Wildcats have been drafted by WNBA teams since 1997, including Barnes, who was a starter for the WNBA Seattle Storm during the 2003 season. Toler is the general manager for the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks.
Bonvicini began her coaching career upon graduation from Southern Connecticut State. An East Coast native, she moved west to serve as an assistant coach at Cal Poly-Pomona in Southern California. From there, she was hired as an assistant at Long Beach State and after two years, at age 25, was promoted to head coach in 1979.
In her second year as a head coach, Bonvicini went 27-7 and was named the 1981 NCAA Division I Coach of the Year. Following the 1985-86 season, she was named the Region VIII and PCAA Coach of the Year. She earned WCAA Coach of the Year honors in 1984 and was also honored as the 1989 “Citizen of the Year” in Long Beach.
In 1993, she was selected as head coach of the United States World University Games team. She guided the squad to a bronze medal in the first games to be held in the U.S. She served as a member of the selection committee for the USA Olympic Basketball Team and spent the summer of 1991 as an assistant coach for the U.S. Pan American Team.
In 1990, she guided the U.S. Select Team to a 5-1 record in international play. In 1981, Bonvicini was head coach of the West squad in the U.S. Olympic Festival and in 1982 was an assistant on the U.S. National Team.
Bonvicini has made the rounds on the international circuit as well. During the summer of 1996, Bonvicini was selected to be the head coach of the Pac-10 All-Star Team that toured Japan. The group spent 10 days touring Japan and competing against the Japanese All-Star Team.
She was an at-large representative to the USA Games Committee for Women for the 1989-92 quadrennium and has been a part of selection committees for the U.S. Olympic Festival, World Championships, Pan American Games, World University Games and the Olympics. She served as president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association in 1988.
Bonvicini does not confine her skills to the court. She travels the speakers’ circuit tirelessly and has participated in numerous basketball seminars and camps, including stints as a guest instructor in Italy. She was a member of the women’s basketball NCAA Rules Committee from 1994-98, is currently on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Club of Tucson, and is a former member of the Tucson Area Girl Scouts board.
A 1975 graduate of Southern Connecticut State, Bonvicini, a guard, led her teams to third- and fourth-place finishes in the 1974 and ’75 AIAW Championships. She earned 1975 Region I-A MVP and honorable mention All-America honors and was a finalist for the 1976 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team.
Bonvicini was inducted as a player into the Southern Connecticut State University Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994. In October of 1996, she was inducted as a coach into the Long Beach State University Hall of Fame, and in October of 2005, she was inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame. She was also honored by the National Organization for Women (NOW) with the 2004 Woman of Courage Award.