Sept. 17, 2001
You know what level of success you've reached when you consider a 20-12 season to be "disappointing".
That's exactly how the University of Arizona women's basketball team felt about the outcome of the 2001 season, though. For the first time since 1996, the Wildcats were not a part of the "Big Dance". A 9-9 mark and fifth-place finish in the Pac-10, their lowest in six years, didn't help the Cats' peace of mind either.
Okay, so the 2001 season wasn't all that bad -- there were plenty of positives during the year. The Cats had their fifth 20-win season in six years, and head coach Joan Bonvicini became one of just 17 active coaches to reach the 500-career-win plateau. The Wildcats earned their second-ever WNIT berth, reaching postseason play for the sixth year in a row. They set or tied 39 school records and finished as the Pac-10 leader in scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage and assists.
Still, the Wildcats weren't satisfied, and now they're looking to make reparation for what they felt was an below-standard performance. The 2002 team possesses all the ingredients - not to mention the potential - to become one of the most successful squads in the history of Arizona women's basketball.
Take seven experienced returnees, add five stellar newcomers and mix in a renewed sense of focus along with a large dose of confidence, and you have what Bonvicini believes is a squad that can contend for its first Pac-10 championship.
"We were disappointed last year in not doing as well as we wanted and not getting into the NCAA tournament," said Bonvicini, who is entering her 11th year at the helm of the Wildcat program. "The trip to Italy in the off-season was a great way to create team bonding and chemistry, but mostly it allowed us to get our confidence back. This team just needed to get back to winning again, especially winning on the road. I know it's different from playing during the season, but the trip was really good for us.
"We're tired of being in the middle in the Pac-10. We really want to go for the title -- it's about time. I think the players have a revitalized spirit and are excited. The team's expectations are high, as they've always been, but there's a difference between what you say and what you do. More than anything, we want to get back into the NCAA tournament."
THE RECRUITING CLASS
Four incoming freshmen and a sophomore transfer make up a Wildcat recruiting class that has been ranked as high as No. 9 in the nation. They are all strong, talented players from whom Bonvicini expects immediate contributions.
A 6-3 forward from Los Angeles, Calif., Danielle Adefeso was a two-time All-CIF Southern Section, All-Los Angeles and All-Camino Real League selection at St. Monica High School. She led the Mariners in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots as both a junior and a senior and helped St. Monica win three straight conference titles. She was part of a St. Monica squad that went 20-5 overall and earned a berth in the state semifinals in 2001.
In accordance with NCAA transfer policies, 5-8 guard Mandakova Clark will sit out this year after transferring from Rutgers. Clark saw time in 20 games, averaging 1.6 ppg and 0.8 rpg, last year for the 23-8 Scarlet Knights. She is originally from Pikeville, Md., and attended Milford Mill Academy, where she was a Nike All-American as a senior after leading the Millers runner-up finish at the state championship.
The second foreign player ever signed by Bonvicini at Arizona, Katrina Lindner is a 5-7 guard from Adelaide, South Australia. She attended Emmanuel College Prep in Adelaide, however most of her basketball experience came from the four club teams she played for over the years. Lindner most recently averaged 20 points and six rebounds a game for her South Australia ABA Conference team. She was also a member of the U-20 South Australia State Team that won the Australian National Championship last January.
Robin Roberson is a 6-0 forward from the nationally renowned Berkeley (Calif.) High School program. She was her conference's Most Valuable Player and team MVP, as well as a first team All-CIF choice, her senior year after averaging 21.5 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists per game. Berkeley was 27-5 overall, won a conference title and was runner-up at the state championship in 2001.
A likely candidate to take over the point guard job vacated by Reshea Bristol's graduation, the 5-6 Dee-Dee Wheeler comes to Arizona from Chicago's Dunbar Vocational Career Academy. Wheeler was a two-time All-Illinios and three-time all-conference and All-Chicago choice during her career at Dunbar. She registered 27.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game as a senior while leading Dunbar to a 27-9 record and third-place conference finish.
"As a whole, this recruiting class is one of the finest classes, on paper, that we've ever put together here," said Bonvicini. "We've signed five players who, at every position, have the ability to come in and make contributions immediately. Our staff did a great job recruiting, but our current players also did an excellent job of selling the program.
"Danielle is a solid, strong player who has the ability to score on the block, so we're expecting to play her at the five. Mandy is very quick and athletic and is a good shooter, but having this year off will really help her. She'll be a big contributor in practice and will help our guard game a lot.
"I think you'll see Katrina become a leader on this team, someone who's going to be able to contribute right away. She's very fast and will have an impact on both defense and offense with her speed and ability to handle the ball in the open court.
"Robin is a versatile player who can shoot the perimeter jumper but can post up as well. Dee-Dee is just a great athlete -- she's quick and strong, a very hard worker, a good scorer, excellent defender, and she's someone who's going to push for playing time right from the start. "
THE SOPHOMORE CLASS
This year's roster features four sophomores, including three returnees who gained an immense amount of experience as rookies last season.
A 5-10 guard, Candice Allen could see increased playing time this year after making a significant showing during the Cats' tour of Italy last May. Allen was named the UA's Most Improved Player last year after averaging 6.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game while playing in all 32 contests.
At 6-0, guard Jenn Chesney stands to see more action this year as well. She played in 21 games last year, starting six, although she was primarily a substitute. She registered 1.2 points, 1.2 rebounds and 9.5 minutes per game.
Another guard who saw substantial playing time last season, the 5-7 Aimee Grzyb averaged 29.5 minutes, 7.8 points, 2.3 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game while playing in all 32 contests. She was among the Pac-10 leaders in three-point shooting for much of the season and finished the year as Arizona's leader in free throw percentage, hitting .837 from the stripe.
"Candice has shown a great deal of improvement. I think you'll see her numbers go up this year and continue to improve as her confidence grows. You'll see the same from Aimee, who started so many games as a freshman," said Bonvicini. "Jen had moments in Italy where she shined, and I think she's going to push for additional time this year."
THE JUNIOR CLASS
Two of the hardest-working players on the Arizona team comprise this year's junior class.
Julie Brase, a 5-10 guard, returns this year after redshirting last year following wrist surgery. She'll provide the Wildcats will another three-point threat, as she already is among the UA's career leaders for shooting from beyond the arc. Brase posted averages of 6.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game as a sophomore during the 1999-2000 season.
"Not only are Julie's numbers going to go up from her sophomore year, but her steadiness and ability to lead the team will really shine through this year," said Bonvicini. "She has a great rapport with the other players, and they respect her because of her work ethic. She is definitely one of the most critical players on our team."
A 6-2 wing, Krista Warren is expected to be back at 100 percent after tearing her right knee ACL during the Cats' game at Oregon last March. Prior to her injury, Warren had played in 28 games, starting all but one, and had averaged 9.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest.
"Krista brings real versatility at her position - we played her as a three and sometimes a four, and you'll see the same thing again this year," said Bonvicini. "She's a great rebounder and is very good around the basket. The time off has renewed her enthusiasm for basketball and has created a focus to just come out and play."
THE SENIOR CLASS
Both of this year's seniors have a great deal in common. They're both Houston natives, they're both 6-4 post players, and they're both looking to go out with a bang!
Forward Elizabeth Pickney earned the first All-Pac-10 Team selection of her career last year after finishing as the UA's top scorer and was third in the conference with 16.4 points per game. The only Wildcat to start all 32 of last year's games, she was also second on the squad in rebounding (6.3 rpg). Pickney's 524 points was the third-highest single-season points total in school history, and she became just the fourth Wildcat ever to top both 1,000 points and 500 rebounds for her career.
"One of the things we want Liz to do is be more physical and rebound a little bit more, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see her averaging over 20 points a game this year," said Bonvicini. "She's a great scorer, and she's a smart, heady, versatile player, so you're going to see all her numbers come up this season."
Center LaKeisha Taylor played in 31 games, starting 11, and showed moments last year that revealed how much talent lies under her quiet veneer. She boosted her averages to career highs of 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game and finished second in the Pac-10 in field goal percentage after hitting .587 from the floor.
"We want, more than anything, just to see some consistency from LaKeisha, because we've seen moments of brilliance from her and now we want to see her put it all together," said Bonvicini.
Of the 19 opponents on the 2001-02 schedule, 13 saw postseason play last year. That number includes the champions of both postseason tournaments.
The Wildcats will open the 2002 season at home on Nov. 18 against the team they beat during the first round of last year's WNIT - Pepperdine. After that, they have a challenging three-game stretch that features the 2001 WNIT champion Ohio State at home on Nov. 21, the 2001 NCAA champion Notre Dame at home on Nov. 24, and WNIT runner-up New Mexico in Albuquerque on Nov. 27.
Things don't get any easier for the Cats when they return home to play host for the 11th annual Arizona Basketball Classic on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2. First-round games on Nov. 30 will feature Pittsburgh against Wisconsin, and Holy Cross against Arizona. Both Wisconsin and Holy Cross were NCAA tournament teams last season.
Arizona has two more non-conference road games before tipping off Pac-10 action. The Cats will play at Rice on Dec. 8, then compete at Stephen F. Austin, another NCAA tourney team, on Dec. 16.
With the advent of the newly created Pac-10 Women's Basketball Tournament, conference play will begin early this season in comparison with years past. The Wildcats will take on Stanford and California on Dec. 19 and 21, respectively, before kicking off a three-game conference road swing that will feature Arizona State (Dec. 30), Oregon (Jan. 4) and Oregon State (Jan. 6).
The Cats will return home to take on Washington (Jan. 10) and Washington State (Jan. 12), and then will wrap up non-conference action with a home game against UC Santa Barbara on Jan. 14. Arizona closes regular-season play at home on Saturday, Feb. 23, against rival Arizona State.
The inaugural Pac-10 Conference Tournament will be held Friday through Monday, Mar. 1-4, at McArthur Court in Eugene, Ore. All 10 teams will compete in the tournament, and the tourney champion will earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
"Our non-conference schedule is geared, as always, to prepare us for Pac-10 play, and this year's schedule is outstanding," said Bonvicini. "The Pac-10 will be highly competitive again this season, so you have to come out ready to play every game.
"The conference tournament will be a fantastic way to bring all the players, coaches, media and fans together in one place to showcase Pac-10 basketball. Eugene has shown a great respect for women's basketball. The University of Oregon has always had very good teams, and they get great crowds. It'll be a wonderful experience for everyone."