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Game Notes: Dec. 29, 2008
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 12/29/2008
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Dec. 29, 2008

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Date: Monday, Dec. 29, 2008

Time: 6:00 p.m. (MST)

Location: Taco Bell Arena, Boise, Ida.

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

Tip Off Time: Arizona hits the road to play its final game of the 2008 calendar year at Boise State in a non-conference tilt. The new year begins just one day after the ball drops for the Wildcats as Pac-10 play opens on Friday, January 2 against California with 2008 national runner-up Stanford coming to the McKale Center two days later.

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.

UC Riverside Recap: Sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe reinforced her status as the Pac-10 Player of the Week by tallying 23 points and 15 rebounds to lead Arizona to a 53-48 win over visiting UC Riverside. Ibekwe also added four blocked shots in 39 minutes of play as the Cats picked up their third-straight win. Reiko Thomas and Courtney Clements each added 8 points and 4 rebounds while Ashley Frazier had a balanced performance at the point guard position with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.

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).

The Rest of the Staff
Sue Darling (Arizona ‘83): A former player at UA, Darling returns to the Old Pueblo to begin her 24th season in coaching. She has made coaching stops at the Air Force Academy, Northwestern, Dartmouth, Arizona State and with the Seattle Reign of the ABL. Darling was most recently the head girls’ basketball coach at Mullen High School in Denver, Colo.

Brandy Manning (Clark Atlanta ‘02): The relative youngster of the staff, Manning is one of the most aggressive recruiters in the women’s game today. Serving as the recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats, Manning spent last season at the University of Central Florida. He also has coaching experience from Murray State and the University of Louisville.

Chance Lindley (Wichita State, ‘00): Rounding out the staff is Chance Lindley, who joins the Wildcats after spending the 2007-08 season as the head coach at Barton County Community College. He led the Cougars to a 34-4 record and 4th place finish at the NJCAA championships. Lindley was instrumental in bringing shooting guard Ipek Turkyilmaz to Arizona as she was a key member of the Barton County team last season.

Holiday Cheer: The month of December has been a joyous month for the Wildcats since the calendar turned to 2000, owning a 40-22 record in the 12th month of the year. Last season, the Wildcats won four-straight before dropping their final non-conference game as well as the opening two contests of Pac-10 competition. The 2003-04 squad was a perfect 7-0 in December while the Wildcat team of the following season dropped just one of seven contests.

Series Notes: Arizona won the only previous meeting between the two teams last season in Tucson by a score of 62-61. Ify Ibekwe put back a missed shot as time expired to give the Wildcats the thrilling victory. The teams have had just one common opponent thus far in Loyola Marymount. The Wildcats earned a 93-88 triple overtime win over the Lions in Hawaii last month while the Broncos dropped a 72-68 decision in Los Angeles two weeks ago.

Scouting the Broncos: Boise State is currently 7-6 on the season, entering the game with a modest two-game winning streak after earning wins over Santa Clara (57-51) and St. Mary’s (68-60). Head coach Gordy Presnell is in his 4th season at the helm of the BSU program and led the team to the WAC championship and the 2nd round of the WNIT last season. Tasha Harris leads the Broncos in scoring at 17.2 points per game.

Wild West: The Wildcats are playing their third game of the non-conference slate against a Western Athletic Conference opponent, holding a 1-1 record thus far. The Cats picked up a 62-50 win over Hawaii in mid-November before dropping a 68-53 decision at Louisiana Tech. Arizona has also picked up three wins against Big West Conference opposition and is 2-0 against teams from the West Coast Conference (LMU and USD).

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.

Clement Time: Freshman guard Courtney Clements proved the old adage that the third time is the charm as she displayed the scoring ability the Arizona coaching staff had expected from her in the third game of her collegiate career. After coming off the bench against both Texas A&M and Midlde Tennessee, Clements made her first collegiate start and shared game-high scoring honors with 21 points. Clements, who had scored a total of 10 points in her first two games, connected on 9-of-21 shots against the Lady Techsters, including her first career three-pointer, and currently holds a scoring average of 9.3 points per game.

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. Twelve times this season an Arizona player has logged at least 40 minutes of action in one of the games. Ashley Frazier leads the way as she has played all 40 minutes on seven occasions, including a 53-minute log during the triple-overtime win against Loyola Marymount, and is averaging 39.4 minutes per contest. Reiko Thomas (36.0) and Amina Njonkou (33.1) 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 10 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 73.7 percent free throw percentage as a team. Thomas leads the team with a .848 mark while Frazier (.789) and Njonkou (.744) have shown some consistency. The Cats have also limited the opportunities of the opposition, making 27 more free throws (146) than the opposition has attempted (119).

Double Trouble: Last season, the Wildcats recorded 20 double-doubles and returned 19 of those to the fold with Njonkou and Beatrice Bofia returning for their senior seasons. Along with Ify Ibekwe, the trio have already amassed a combined nine double-doubles, including a 23-point, 18-rebound output by Ibekwe in the season-opening loss to Toledo.

Board Members: Speaking of double-doubles, the Wildcats bring back two of the most ferocious rebounders in the Pac-10 in the form of Njonkou and Ibekwe. 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.

Wiping the Glass: The rebounding prowess has remained intact through most of the first fifth of the season as the Wildcats have outrebounded the opposition in eight of the first 10 contests. The Cats are averaging just over 42.4 rebounds per game while allowing the opposition 35.0 rebounds each game. The 7.4 rebounding margin the Wildcats have enjoyed has consistently ranked the team among the top 50 in the NCAA and 6th in Pac-10, a stat led both locally and nationally by UCLA.

National Notables: Speaking of the NCAA statistics, Ibekwe is tops in the Pac-10 and is currently 10th in the NCAA in rebounds per game at 11.9, besting her sister, Chinyere, who is a senior at UCLA and is averaging 10.6 per game. As a team, the Wildcats are also rating near the top 80 in free throw shooting at 73.7 percent.

Topping the Charts: Twice this season and three times this calendar year two different Wildcats have had an individual rebounding effort that has ranked as one of the best in program history. Beatrice Bofia was the first to do so, pulling down 18 boards against Oregon State back on January 3 in Corvallis. This season, Ibekwe has already twice etched her name among the top 10 all-time. She opened the season with 18 boards against Toledo, then grabbed 19 rebounds in a home victory against UC Santa Barbara.

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 two 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 15 times over the last four contests. The Cats even enjoyed a 19-15 victory in turnover margin against San Diego, something that had not happened since the victory over UC Santa Barbara but has now happened twice in the past three games.

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 19 three-point shots, an average of just under 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 .202.

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 144 fouls through 10 games with only two foul-outs. With an average of just 14.4 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.

Up and In: Though Arizona has struggled from the field the last three games, the Wildcats can look to the frontcourt for some solid shooting percentages. Amina Njonkou leads the team with a .488 field goal percentage while Ify Ibekwe is shooting at a .474 clip. Beatrice Bofia has also come off the bench to give the Wildcats 25 made field goals in 60 tries, calculating to a respectable .417 clip.

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 five home contests thus far, the Wildcats are allowing a meager 50.8 points per game on Olson Court. The Cats have held the oppositon under 50 points on three occasions and allowed #3/#4-ranked Texas A&M just 54 points in a hard-fought loss last month.

Road Woes: Arizona will be hoping to translate its home form into a more complete performance on the road against Boise State. While the offensive numbers have been comparable away from the friendly confines of the McKale Center, the Cats have allowed 77 and 68 points in its two official road contests, an average of over 72 points per game.

Dishing It Up: Junior point guard Ashley Frazier has put together her two most productive games as a Wildcat over the past week and is showing signs of making the transition from junior college point guard to NCAA Division I floor general. Frazier has combined to dish out 19 assists over the past four games while committing no more than three turnovers in any game. She leads the squad with 41 assists, good for a 4.1 per game average, and is just two assists shy of evening her assist-to-turnover margin.

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 #3/4 Stanford, #9/6 California and #22/21 Arizona State during Pac-10 play after having already gone toe-to-toe with #4/3 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.

1,000 Point Club: Last season, senior Ashley Whisonant vaulted up the Arizona all-time scoring list, finishing her career in 5th place with 1,451 points. This season, senior Amina Njonkou has a considerable chance at becoming the 16th player in team history to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Njonkou amassed 691 points in her first three seasons with the Wildcats, including a 392-point tally last season, and has scored 110 points in 10 games to run her total to 801. Her current scoring average of 11.0 per game would push her over the 1,000-point mark in 19 more games, or in the regular season finale at California on March 7.

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 this weekend to open up th 18-game Pac-10 Conference slate with a pair of home games. The Wildcats host #13/#9 California on Friday evening at 7 p.m., then return to the McKale Center hardwood on Sunday afternoon against #11/#8 Stanford at 2 p.m.

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