Oct. 29, 2008
TUCSON, Ariz. - After banging against the same faces for the past two months, the Arizona women's basketball team finally saw new opposition on Wednesday evening as the Wildcats took part in the annual Red/Blue Game in front of 575 fans inside the McKale Center.
The 2008-09 Wildcats, wearing their red practice jerseys, played a full 40 minutes against a team of male students who scrimmage against the team on a regular basis. While the Blue team came out on top on the scoreboard, head coach Niya Butts saw a lot of things to smile about after the team's first full-court scrimmage.
"It felt pretty good to get out there...a lot more comfortable than if I had been in normal game attire," joked Butts, whose staff wore team warm-ups and matching tennis shoes on the bench instead of their standard formal attire. "Seriously, it felt good to get out there. I was excited like the girls were and overall I'm pleased with how things went."
A young team that includes seven freshmen showed some youth and nervous jitters over the opening minutes of the game, missing 2-of-17 shots to start the evening to fall behind by a 19-7 count.
A three-pointer by Ashley Frazier with 8:52 before the half gave the Wildcats some life as well as a much-needed relaxing deep breath. In turn, the shots started to fall with some regularity.
Freshman Reiko Thomas came off the bench and sparked the Wildcats with a team-high 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting. She followed up the trey by Frazier with a jumper, then drilled two free throws before converting a transition bucket to cut the gap to seven.
She cut the deficit to 29-23 with another jumper, then drilled a three-pointer off a timeout at the 2:57 mark to make it a three-point game. All told, the Wildcats finished the half on a 25-12 spurt that gave them a 32-31 halftime advantage.
"I was so nervous I couldn't hardly eat all day," said Thomas, a prep teammate of sophomore Ify Ibekwe at Narbonne High in the Los Angeles area. "We have only had one scrimmage against the guys, so it was good to get out and play a full game together."
The Wildcats stretched the run to 33-12 with the first four points of the second half before the height and athleticism of their male counterparts allowed the blue team to slowly chip away at the lead.
"The turnovers definitely hurts us a little in the second half," said sophomore Tasha Dickey, who led the 'Cats with 16 points as she hit 8-of-8 from the free throw line. "Because it's our first game, we had to get some jitters out, but for a first time around I thought we played pretty well."
Amina Njonkou added 8 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals for Arizona while Ibekwe grabbed six rebounds.
"One thing we need to do is learn how to play for 40 minutes," said Butts, whose team committed 13 turnovers in the second half but forced 26 for the game to earn the advantage in that category. "Basketball is a game of runs and we need to learn how to close out a game."
Arizona returns to exhibition action next Tuesday, November 4 against NCAA Division II Panhandle State (Okla.) with tip-off scheduled for 7:00 p.m.