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Game Notes: Jan. 7, 2009
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 01/07/2009
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Jan. 7, 2009

Date: January 8, 2009, 7 p.m. (PST)

Location: McArthur Court, Eugene, Ore.

Radio: KTUC AM 1400 (Derrick Palmer, Alysiah Bond)

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Tip Off Time: Arizona hits the road for the first time during conference play for a pair of games along I-5 in Oregon. The Wildcats will stop off in Eugene on Thursday evening to battle the Ducks, then head a few miles to Corvallis to tangle with the Beavers to complete the trip.

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.

Stanford Recap: Down and out and trailing by 25 points with just over five minutes to play, an alarm simultaneously went off in the heads of all five Wildcats on the court against Stanford as a 17-0 run ensued that nearly prevented a 70-61 loss to the Cardinal. The Wildcats trimmed a 65-40 deficit to 65-57 with just over a minute to play, but ran out of time on the clock to complete the improbable comeback. Ify Ibekwe led all players with 23 points and 12 rebounds while Reiko Thomas chipped in with 15 points. Amina Njonkou snapped out of her personal four-game scoring slump and tossed in 14 points to go along with 8 rebounds.

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).

Series Notes: Stanford has dominated the all-time series against Arizona, owning a 47-12 mark against the Wildcats. The Cardinal have won 11 in a row against the Wildcats dating back to the 2004 Pac-10 Tournament championship game. The last Arizona victory came on February 5, 2004 here in the McKale Center with a 88-83 triumph. Shawntinice Polk led five Wildcats in double figures with 21 points and 19 rebounds to lead the way in that game. Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer is 40-9 against Arizona in her 23 seasons at the Cardinal helm.

Scouting the Ducks: Oregon is currently 4-8 on the season and 1-1 in Pac-10 play after splitting its opening weekend games at USC (L, 66-56) and UCLA (W, 73-56). The win over the Bruins snapped a six-game losing streak that dated back over a month with the Ducks’ last win coming on November 29 over Wyoming (51-45). Micaela Cocks leads the Ducks in scoring at 15.8 points per game and has connected on 40 percent (32-of-80) from three-point range.

Wild West: The Wildcats enjoyed playing a good deal of their non-conference slate against teams from the West Coast. Including the recent victory over Boise State, the Cats finished with a 2-1 record against Western Athletic Conference foes. The Cats picked up a 62-50 win over Hawaii in mid-November before dropping a 68-53 decision at Louisiana Tech. Arizona also picked up three wins against Big West Conference opposition and went 2-0 against teams from the West Coast Conference (Loyola Marymount and San Diego).

Future Cats: Head coach Niya Butts was happy to announce the signing of the first two players for the 2009 signing class earlier in the season. Senior guard Davellyn White of St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix is the first prep player to sign a National Letter of Intent to play for Butts. Whyte, the daughter of former Major League Baseball veteran Devon White, averaged 18 points per game in her junior campaign, leading the Lady Knights to a 19-9 record and the 5A Desert Valley Region championship. She was an all-state selection and was the runner-up in the region player of the year voting.

Joining Whyte with three years of eligibility remaining is Brooke Jackson, who is currently a freshman at Mesa Community College. A 5’9” shooting guard, Jackson prepped at Mountain View High School and was a two-time East Valley Region Player of the Year and two-time all-state selection. She is the 5A all-time single-season leader in scoring after tallying 849 points as a junior. Jackson also holds state 5A records for free throws made in a game (18) and season (216) as well as career steals (482). A solid outside shooter, Jackson finished her prep career with a 41 percent mark from three-point range.

Injury Update: Though status quo could be thought of as a positive thing on the injury front for the Wildcats, they will still be without two key perimeter players the rest of the season. Freshman Jhakia McDonald has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in her right foot while Tasha Dickey also had season-ending surgery on her foot earlier this month. 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.

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. Sixteen times this season an Arizona player has logged at least 40 minutes of action in a game. Ashley Frazier leads the way as she has played all 40 minutes on nine occasions, including a 53-minute log during the triple-overtime win against Loyola Marymount, and is averaging a Pac-10 leading 39.5 minutes per contest. Reiko Thomas (36.8), Amina Njonkou (32.4), Ibekwe (32.1) and Courtney Clements (30.1) are also logging heavy minutes in their starting roles for the Wildcats.

Free Throw Findings: One place the Wildcats have shown an improvement through the first 12 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 73.9 percent free throw percentage as a team. Since hitting 8-of-12 in the loss to Louisiana Tech, the Wildcats have made 84-of-112 freebies (.750) over the past five games. Thomas leads the team with a .847 mark and has made 37-of-43 attempts (.860) over that stretch while Frazier (.750) and Njonkou (.720) have shown some consistency. The Cats have also limited the opportunities of the opposition, making 38 more free throws (186) than the opposition has attempted (148).

Board Members: The Wildcats returned two of the most ferocious rebounders in the Pac-10 in the form of Njonkou and Ibekwe this season. 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. The duo also combined for 19 of the team’s 20 double-doubles last season, getting one more from Beatrice Bofia against Oregon State.

Wiping the Glass: The rebounding prowess has remained intact through the non-conference portion of the season as the Wildcats have outrebounded the opposition in nine of the first 11 contests. The Cats are averaging 41.3 rebounds per game while allowing the opposition 36.0 rebounds each game. The 5.3 rebounding margin the Wildcats have enjoyed is ranked 59th in the NCAA. The Wildcats rank 3rd in offensive rebounds (15.3) and 4th in defensive rebounds (25.9) per contest.

National Notables: Speaking of the NCAA statistics, Ibekwe is tops in the Pac-10 and is currently 5th in the NCAA in rebounds per game at 12.5. Ashley Frazier is 93rd in assists per contest at 4.3 per game. As a team, the Wildcats are ranked 45th as a team in free throw shooting at 72.9 percent with Thomas checking in at 50th on the individual charts. The Wildcats are also 14th in the NCAA in fouls committed per game with just 14.2 violations per contest.

Topping the Charts: Three times this season, Ibekwe has placed her name on the top 10 single-game rebounding list. She opened the season with 18 boards against Toledo, then grabbed 19 rebounds in a home victory against UC Santa Barbara nine days later before her 20-rebound output on Monday evening against Boise State.

Incredible Ify: It would be impossible to overstate the impact that Ibekwe had on the Arizona victory over Boise State last Monday evening. Her 26-point, 20-rebound performance was the first 20-20 game in program history and only the third in the NCAA thus far in 2008-09. She now owns three of the top four individual single-game rebounding totals in team history and is on pace to shatter the season record for rebounds per game of 10.8 set by the late Shawntinice Polk in the 2002-03 campaign. She is also on pace to register 19 double-doubles, a total that would place her just two behind Polk’s 2003 total of 21 on the Arizona single-season list.

Accepting the Accolades: Not only was Ibekwe named the Pac-10 Player of the Week in December, she was recently named to the Naismith Award early season watch list. As one of 49 players and just three from the Pac-10 chosen to the initial list, Ibekwe will have an opportunity to remain on the semifinal list of 30 players when the Atlanta Tipoff Club has its voting members cast their ballots in February.

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.

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 six games. The Cats had been averaging over 23 turnovers per contest through the first six games, but have given the ball away no more than 16 times over the last six contests. The Cats enjoyed a 19-15 victory in turnover margin against San Diego and most recently forced 21 takeaways while committing 15 giveaways against Boise State. The Wildcats had not accomplished that since knocking off UC Santa Barbara, but managed to pull that off four times in the past five games and, by no coincidence, were 4-1 when winning that stat line.

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 31 three-point shots, an average of just over 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 .230.

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 184 fouls through 13 games with only two foul-outs. With an average of just over 14 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.

Defending Their Home: The Wildcats have shown that the McKale Center will not be an easy place for visiting teams to come in 2008-09. In seven home contests thus far, the Wildcats are allowing a meager 54.3 points per game on Olson Court. The Cats have held the oppositon under 50 points on three occasions and allowed #3-ranked Texas A&M just 54 points while yielding only 56 to #13 California in a pair of hard-fought defeats.

Road Woes: Arizona was finally able to get the road monkey off its back last Monday night with a strong second half defensive showing for the victory over the Broncos. Prior to that, the Wildcats had struggled defensively away from home, allowing 77 and 68 points in their two losses for an average of 72.5 per game.

Dishing It Up: Junior point guard Ashley Frazier has turned the corner after struggling through the opening month of the season is showing signs of making the transition from junior college point guard to solid NCAA Division I floor general. Frazier has combined to dish out 28 assists over the past six games while committing more than three turnovers only once. She leads the squad with 56 assists, good for a 4.3 per game average, and with her 5:1 ratio against Boise State was able to send her assist-to-turnover ratio over the 1.0 mark for the first time this season.

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 #11/7 Stanford, #13/9 California and Arizona State, who only recently dropped out of the Top 25, during Pac-10 play after having already gone toe-to-toe with #3/6 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.

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 completes its weekend road trip on Saturday, January 10 with the hopes of giving head coach Niya Butts a favorable birthday present as the Wildcats take on Oregon State at Gill Coliseum with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m. The Cats will then take a week off before playing in-state rival Arizona State in Tempe on Saturday, January 17 in a game to be broadcast on FSN Arizona at 12 p.m.

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