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Game Notes: Jan. 10, 2009
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 01/09/2009
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Jan. 9, 2009

Date: Jan. 10, 2009

Location: Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, Ore.

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

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Tip Off Time: Arizona head coach Niya Butts hopes to celebrate her 31st birthday by snapping a three-game losing streak with a win over host Oregon State on Saturday afternoon. The two teams will complete their season series in Tucson on Thursday, February 5 in McKale Center.

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.

Oregon Recap: Despite cutting a 9-point second half deficit down to two points in the final three minutes of the game, Oregon got a three-pointer from Amanda Johnson that took the wind out of the Arizona sails on the way to a 68-55 over the Wildcats. Ify Ibekwe led all players with game-high totals of 23 points and 15 rebounds, but no other Arizona player scored in double figures. Ashley Frazier and Amina Njonkou each tallied nine points. Taylor Lilley led the way for the Ducks with 14 points as four players scored in double figures. The Wildcats turned the ball over 17 times despite owning a 37-29 edge on the boards.

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: Arizona holds a slim 26-24 edge in the all-time series against the Beavers. Last season, the two teams each held serve at home before the Beavers picked up a 46-31 win in the opening round of the Pac-10 Tournament. The Wildcats earned a 71-63 win in Tucson with Ify Ibekwe tallying 14 points, 13 rebounds and three steals. The game in Corvallis was one of the most memorable games in either program’s annals as a shorthanded Arizona team finished the contest with just two eligible players on the court, a game that went to the Beavers in double overtime, 94-88.

Scouting the Beavers: Oregon State is also winless after its first three Pac-10 game, having lost both of its games in Los Angeles last weekend before dropping a 61-36 verdict to Arizona State on Thursday evening. The Beavers are led on the offensive end by sharpshooter Talisa Rhea, who averages 14.1 points per game and has connected on 30 three-pointers. Alex Mitchell also chips in at 13.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest. Head coach LaVonda Wagner is in her fourth season at Oregon State and is 46-57 overall in Corvallis.

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 (37.1), Amina Njonkou (32.6), Ibekwe (32.6) and Courtney Clements (31.1) 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 72.4 percent free throw percentage as a team. Thomas leads the team with a .825 mark and has made while Frazier has earned a .750 mark. The Cats have also limited the opportunities of the opposition, making 44 more free throws (202) than the opposition has attempted (158).

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 41.0 rebounds per game while allowing the opposition 36.0 rebounds each game. The 5.5 rebounding margin the Wildcats have enjoyed is ranked 56th in the NCAA.

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 12.7 and crept into the top 100 in scoring at 15.9 (98th). Ashley Frazier is 87th in assists per contest at 4.3 per game. As a team, the Wildcats are ranked 56th as a team in free throw shooting at 72.4 percent with Thomas checking in at 71st on the individual charts. The Wildcats are also 12th in the NCAA in fouls committed per game with just 14.0 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, gave the ball away no more than 16 times over the next 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. However, the Cats are also 2-6 when committing more turnovers than the opposition.

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 36 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 .250.

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 196 fouls through 14 games with only two foul-outs. With an average of just 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: With the loss to Oregon on Thursday evening, the Wildcats dropped to 1-3 away from home this season. In those three losses, the Wildcats are allowing an average of 71 points per game, twice letting the home side score 68 points while also giving up 77 points in a loss to Middle Tennessee.

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 seven games while committing more turnovers than assists only once. She leads the squad with 60 assists, good for a 4.3 per game average, and her 5:1 ratio against Boise State sent her assist-to-turnover ratio over the 1.0 mark, where it continues to hold steady.

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 is back home in the McKale Center next weekend to host a pair of games against the Los Angeles schools. USC visits the Wildcats on Thursday, January 15 at 7 p.m., then UCLA takes to Olson Court against the Cats on Saturday, January 17 at 2 p.m.

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