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2006-07 Arizona Women's Basketball Season Preview
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 10/12/2006
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Some might view the 2005-06 Arizona women’s basketball season as a year to forget.  Some might say that this 2006-07 season is a rebuilding year for the Wildcats.

 

None of that, however, is true.

 

Arizona is coming off a difficult season in which basketball took a backseat to life after the tragic death of Shawntinice Polk.  This program will never forget last season, nor will it ever forget Polkey, because the lessons learned have given this team an unprecedented unity and strength.  The Arizona women’s basketball team returns to the court understanding what this season is all about.  2006-07 is all about basketball.

 

“We are ready to play,” head coach Joan Bonvicini said.  “Last year was difficult in so many ways, and I think the good part, I can say out of everything that happened, is that our players had to mature, grow and become better leaders. However, we are not used to losing.  We want to get back to being successful on the court.”

 

Arizona enters this season with four returning starters from a year ago, including 76 percent of its scoring and 78 percent of its rebounding, and the addition of a solid recruiting class.

 

“We had a great summer in preparation, and we have great team chemistry,” Bonvicini said.  “Last year we were decimated with injuries and didn’t have a lot of size, but now we are pretty tall and have great depth.”

 

Although Arizona is coming off an 8-22 season, with a 3-15 mark in Pac-10 play, the Wildcats look to continue the success of a women’s basketball program that made three-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 2003-05, and won 20 or more games eight times in the last 11 seasons.

 

“This year we have a chance to be much improved from last season,” Bonvicini said.  “Our team enters this year healthy and we have a lot of depth at each position.  I’m really excited to coach this group of players.”

 

The following is a breakdown of the 2006-07 Arizona Wildcats.

 

Backcourt

 

One major strength the Wildcats will enjoy this season is solid depth at all positions.  That depth can be first noticed in the backcourt.  Arizona has seven guards on the roster to rotate in and out of the lineup, with six of those players all logging double-digit minutes last season. 

 

“There is no question that we have a lot of depth at the guard positions,” Bonvicini said.  “Most importantly, we have a lot of good experience in the backcourt.”

 

Guard play was a strength of the team last season, as the Wildcats set a single-season record with 176 three-point field goals made, and a single-game record with 30 assists against Furman (11/22/05).

 

Although the Wildcats will have to fill the shoes of departed senior Natalie Jones, a four-year starter in the Arizona backcourt, the coaching staff will have plenty of options to choose from.

 

Arizona returns two experienced starters from last season in senior Joy Hollingsworth and junior Ashley Whisonant.  Hollsingworth returns after a very productive junior campaign in which she led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding.  Hollingsworth was one of only two Wildcats, along with Jones, who started in each of the team’s 30 contests last season.

 

“Joy is a great shooter and is poised to have a solid year,” Bonvicini said.  “She is our leading returning scorer from last season and has great leadership skills.”

 

Hollingsworth is a proven scorer, as she posted her 1,000th career point vs. Oregon in the first round of the 2006 Pac-10 Tournament.  She enters this season with 1,020 career points - 589 in her two seasons at San Francisco and 431 from last year as a Wildcat.

 

Whisonant returns as the team’s assist leader, posting 102 assists on the season while averaging 13.7 points per game.  She made 27 starts at point guard in 30 games played, and was second on the team with 41 steals.

 

“Ashley is a very solid player,” Bonvicini said.  “She’ll be the point guard for us.  I think this year is going to be her best year as a Wildcat.”

 

Junior Jessica Arnold and sophomore Kelsey Burns are two reliable guards returning to the Arizona backcourt after logging substantial playing time last season.

 

Arnold averaged 5.9 points in 19.3 minutes per game, and ranked fourth on the team in assists with 41 last season.  She also enters 2006-07 ninth all-time in three-point field goal percentage (.343).

 

“Jessica had a tough year last year because we had no inside presence,” Bonvicini said.  “She needs a post player to help her hit the jumper, and she will have that this season.”

 

Burns is coming off an impressive freshman campaign in which she averaged 4.1 points and 11.7 minutes in 27 games, including three starts.

 

“Kelsey had a good freshman year,” Bonvicini said.  “She is a great shooter, she has improved her overall game and is ready to get more minutes and contribute to our team.”

 

The Arizona backcourt is also bolstered by the return of senior Linda Pace from a season-ending knee injury, and sophomore Malia O'Neal, who was limited in playing time early in the season.

 

Pace started the first 11 games of the season before injuring her knee, averaging 5.4 points and 24.0 minutes per game.  She is a three-year letterwinner with 61 games to her credit, and will be an experienced leader for the Wildcat guards.

 

“Linda has worked hard to come back from knee surgery this offseason, and we are looking forward to a great senior year from her,” Bonvicini said.

 

O’Neal also logged valuable playing time in her freshman season, posting 13.7 minutes in 22 games including seven starts, while ranking fifth on the squad with 34 assists.

 

“Malia is in excellent condition,” Bonvicini said.  “She is looking forward to having a full season and will contribute to our lineup.”

 

Arizona also adds freshman guard Marie McGee, a talented recruit from Las Cruces, N.M.

 

“Marie is a very good athlete,” Bonvicini said.  “She will play both the point and wing for us and is a great defender who will help us off the bench in her first year.”

 

Posts

 

Last season, teams exposed Arizona’s lack of size in the post and beat up on the Wildcats down low.  This year, Arizona will have plenty of options in the paint.  Arizona’s roster features eight players who stand 6-0 or taller, including the twin tandem of coveted recruits in junior centers Beatrice and Suzy Bofia.

 

Standing at 6-7 and 6-6 respectfully, Beatrice and Suzy are poised to make in immediate impact on the Arizona program.

 

“The Bofia twins add a lot of depth to our post positions,” Bonvicini said.  “They are versatile players who can run the floor and post up.”

 

Beatrice and Suzy, from Yaound?©, Cameroon, spent the last two seasons at Illinois Central College.  Beatrice averaged 6.3 points and 4.9 rebounds in 2004-05, and 4.3 points and 3.4 rebounds last season, as Illinois Central won the NJCAA Division II national championship.

 

“Beatrice can run with our guards, that is how quick she is,” Bonvicini said.  “She is a solid back-to-the-basket post player who will develop more as the season goes along.”

 

“Beatrice can literally dunk. She does things I have never seen a woman do.  She can post up and without taking a dribble, drop step and dunk,” Bonvicini said.

 

Suzy posted impressive numbers in her two seasons at Illinois Central College.  In 2004-05, she average 9.5 points and 6.4 rebounds a game and was named to the all-tournament team at the NJCAA Division II national championships after averaging 10.0 points and 11.7 rebounds.  Last season, she averaged 12.8 points and 9.6 rebounds a game for the national championship squad, and was named a Kodak honorable mention All-American while setting school records for rebounds in a season (328) and rebound average (9.6).

 

“Suzy got a lot of game experience at the junior college level,” Bonvicini said.  “She’s a gamer.  At 6-6, she can face up to the basket, make moves and put it on the floor.”

 

Arizona also welcomes another set of twins in freshmen forwards Rhaya and Rheya Neabors from Fullerton, Calif.  Both standing at 6-1, Rhaya and Rheya will provide immediate help for the Wildcats down low in the post.

 

“I have never coached twins before and now we have two sets,” Bonvicini said.  “Rheya is a lefty and she can play anywhere from the two to the four positions for us. Rhaya is a righty that will play the block position as well. They are very both very well coached players.”

 

Arizona has a revitalized depth at the post positions with the addition of twin twins, but the Wildcats also return a wealth of talented post players.

 

Junior forward Shannon Hobson returns after a redshirt season and will be a valuable addition to the lineup.  In 2004-05, the two-year letterwinner posted 4.8 points and 3.6 rebounds in 27 games, making 16 starts.

 

Shannon is back from a redshirt last year and is 100 percent,” Bonvicini said.  She is ready to get back on the floor and contribute as both a scorer and a rebounder.”

 

Arizona returns two sophomore forwards in Whitney Fields and Amina Njonkou who both saw playing time last season.  Fields saw action in 29 games as a freshman, making three starts while posting 3.9 points, 4.5 rebounds in 17.9 minutes a game.  Her 130 total rebounds ranked third on the team.

 

“Whitney is in great shape and is ready to contribute to our team,” Bonvicini said.  “She is a very good defender and an excellent rebounder.”

 

Although she battled a foot injury for much of the season, when healthy, Njonkou was a solid contributor to the Arizona frontcourt.  In eight games, Njonkou averaged 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in 16.5 minutes per game, while making four starts.

 

“Amina is in great shape,” Bonvicini said.  “She looks healthy, her shot looks great, and is a great contributor in the post for our team.”

 

Junior forward Ch?© Oh, who averaged 8.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 30.9 minutes in 20 games (18 starts) last year, will redshirt this season.

 

Schedule

 

Like every season, Arizona competes against some of the toughest competition in the nation.  This year will be no different.  The Wildcats will face a strong non-conference slate to go along with the always-difficult Pac-10 Conference season.

 

“We have a lot of good competition on our schedule,” Bonvicini said.  “The Pac-10, I think, is going to be the best it’s ever been. Last year we put six teams from our conference in the tournament.  As difficult as last season was, as competitive as it was, I think this season is going to be even more competitive.  Our non-conference schedule is tough as well.  There won’t be any gimmies.”

 

Arizona faces an early test when the Wildcats travel to College Park, Md., to take on George Washington, Maryland, and TCU in the BTI Classic (Nov. 17-19).

 

The Wildcats have a loaded non-conference slate at home with matchups against Nicholls State in the season opener on Nov. 14, NC State (Nov. 24), Louisiana Tech (Dec. 3), New Mexico (Dec. 5), Long Beach State (Dec. 12), and Fresno State (Dec. 18).  Arizona will also make trips to UTEP (Nov. 26), Texas A&M (Nov. 28), and Utah (Dec. 9).

 

Arizona opens up the Pac-10 schedule on the road against archrival Arizona State (Dec. 22) before traveling to California (Dec. 28) and Stanford (Dec. 30).  The Wildcats will then open the New Year by hosting Washington (Jan. 4) and Washington State (Jan. 6) before traveling to Oregon (Jan. 11) and Oregon State (Jan. 13).  Arizona will have a four-game Pac-10 home stand in the middle of the season when it hosts USC (Jan. 18) and UCLA (Jan. 20), and then Stanford (Jan. 25) and Cal (Jan. 27) in consecutive weeks.

 

UA opens February at Washington State (Feb. 1) and Washington (Feb. 3), before hosting Oregon State (Feb. 8) and Oregon (Feb. 10) in McKale Center.  Arizona travels to Los Angeles to take on UCLA (Feb. 15) and USC (Feb. 17) before finishing the regular season at home against Arizona State (Feb.24).

 

The Pac-10 Tournament will again be held at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., from March 2-5.

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