Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Courtside Conversations with Paul Johnson
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: June 22, 2004
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Paul Johnson is employed by the UA as the women's basketball play-by-play announcer. He has 20 years of sports broadcasting experience, including the last six years as the voice of Arizona women's basketball. Every Wildcat women's basketball game this year will be broadcast live on KJLL 1330 AM, with Paul calling all the action.

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There is a word that is thrown around in sports. This word has been over-used and, like many valid concepts, has turned into something of a clich?. However, on Saturday, Dec. 8 on the floor of Autry Court at Rice University in Houston, the University of Arizona women's basketball team became the very definition of this word. The word is "heart," and Joan Bonvicini's team had it when, against all odds, it earned a key road victory over last year's Western Athletic Conference champion.

The concept of a team with "heart" can be defined in many ways. Last week, the Arizona women redefined the term on the basketball floor. This story began on Nov. 30 at McKale Center. The Cats were in the process of being upset by Holy Cross when sophomore guard Candice Allen went crashing to the floor, slamming her head and earning a grade-three concussion. So, the Wildcats were down to seven regular players, and faced a seemingly must-win situation against Pittsburgh on Dec. 2. So, two days later, Arizona found itself facing another upset and trailing in the second half when another key player, junior guard Julie Brase, went down in a heap underneath the Panthers' basket. It had happened again. Arizona had been stunned by a lowly opponent for the second straight week, and its roster was trimmed to six regulars and two bench players who had barely seen game action. Here is where the "heart" part comes in.

Last Friday, the Cats boarded a Continental Airlines MD-80 and headed for Houston, Texas. Their opponent, the Rice Owls, seemed to offer too much for the Cats handle. After all, here was the defending WAC champions on their home floor, where they had lost only 8 games in their last 52 tries. The Owls laid in wait as the battered Wildcats entered the dark and dank enclave called Autry Arena.

As Arizona came through the doors of the arena, one was struck by the lack of atmosphere in the ancient gym. A men's exhibition game was ongoing and only 300 dedicated fans rattled around the bleacher seating. By the time the women played the second game of the double-header, a quiet crowd of almost 1,040 had settled in to watch their team pound this under-manned Arizona contingent. As the game wore on, it looked like the naysayers were going to be right. Rice led 32-31 at the break, and Arizona saw the Owls score the first five points of the second half. Then it happened. Then "heart" kicked in and some amazing things happened!

Everyone on Arizona's roster went to work. At one point late in the game, the Cats had regulars LaKeisha Taylor, Krista Warren, and Robin Roberson on the bench, each with four fouls. Then, Liz Pickney was poked in the eye and headed for the bench, appearing to take any hopes of a victory with her, but everyone slammed down hammer and showed more "heart" than in any game this season. Little-used walk-on Michelle Tibbetts gave Coach Bonvicini valuable minutes and so did reserve freshman Danielle Adefeso. Freshman guard Dee-Dee Wheeler made some big defensive plays, while freshman Robin Roberson was hitting a huge 3-pointer down the stretch as Arizona pulled away. Yes, this battered-and-beaten Wildcat team earned a grueling 74-65 win on the road. They came into Houston with only 6 regular players, and only two more on the bench, but they showed that "heart" can overcome all odds.

The Wildcats face another difficult task this weekend as they travel to play Stephen F. Austin. SFA is an excellent women's basketball team, and who knows if Brase and Allen will be in uniform. Win or lose, we can count on one thing -- whoever does show up for the Cats will play with heart, because last weekend in an old dark arena, the Arizona women's basketball team redefined the word.

See on the radio!

Paul Johnson

  Women's Basketball


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