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Game Notes: Jan. 16, 2009
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 01/16/2009
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Jan. 16, 2009

Date: January 17, 2009

Location: McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.

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

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Tip Off Time: A third weekend of Pac-10 play comes to a close this afternoon as the Wildcats host UCLA in an afternoon matinee in McKale Center. The two teams will complete their season series less than a month from now at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday, February 12. The Wildcats will also have a week off after today’s game in preparation for next week’s rivalry game at Arizona State.

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.

USC Recap: Arizona held a pair of double-digit leads and was in front by five with two minutes to play, but their weary legs gave out and USC capitalized as the Women of Troy captured a 77-71 overtime win over the Wildcats. Ify Ibekwe led all players with 20 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots while Reiko Thomas tossed in 16 points and tallied five rebounds. Ibekwe had a chance to win it for the Cats with eight seconds remaining in regulation, but her 10-foot jumper from the baseline missed the mark and the Trojans pulled away midway through the extra session.

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: UCLA has tallied a 41-19 advantage in the all-time series between the two teams. The Bruins won both meetings last season and have captured 5-of-6 contests over the past three campaigns. Last season here in Tucson, the Bruins held the Wildcats to just 29.3 percent shooting en route to a 68-59 victory in the opening weekend of Pac-10 play. Amina Njonkou had 12 points and 11 rebounds in that game for Arizona.

Scouting the Bruins: Despite suffering a 68-44 loss to Arizona State on Thursday afternoon, UCLA is 11-4 overall with an even 2-2 mark in Pac-10 play. Under the guidance of first-year head coach Nikki Caldwell, the Bruins have been one of the most dominant rebounding teams in the country this season, averaging almost 45 rebounds per contest with a 12.8 rebounding average that is only behind Baylor in the NCAA standings. Doreena Campbell leads a balanced offensive attack for UCLA at 12.1 points per game and almost four assists per contest while Chinyere Ibekwe leads the way on the boards with 8.4 rebounds per game.

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.

Sister Act: While there are a number of sister combinations playing on the same roster, very few siblings actually take the same court donning different uniforms. That abnormality will take shape today as Arizona sophomore Ify Ibekwe will line up against her sister, UCLA senior Chinyere Ibekwe. The older sister owns a pair of wins over her younger sibling from last season, though Ify missed the first contest last season due to an eye injury. In the return contest at Pauley Pavilion, the Arizona Ibekwe tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds while UCLA’s Ibekwe came off the bench to toss in five points and snare four rebounds.

Tennessee Tandem: In what is becoming more commonplace by the year, two head coaches who played their collegiate basketball for the same head coach will go head to head on opposite ends of the sideline. Arizona head coach Niya Butts and UCLA leader Nikki Caldwell both can boast legendary Pat Summitt as their mentors from their playing days at Tennessee. Though Caldwell completed her Lady Vols career in 1994 and Butts did not arrive in Knoxville until 1996, the duo are part of four former Tennessee players who are now coaching in the NCAA.

Injury Update: A depleted Arizona roster that had avoided any further setbacks for the better part of a month was unable to keep its healthy streak intact as a pair of Wildcats suffered injuries against the Trojans on Thursday evening. Freshman guard Reiko Thomas suffered a left ankle injury late in the game and is listed as doubtful for the game against UCLA. Fellow freshman Courtney Clements hurt her right ankle in the early part of the game, but was able to return and should be in the starting lineup against the Bruins.

Going the Distance: With a roster depleted due to injuries, the active and healthy Wildcats have seen their share of minutes this season. Twenty-six 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 in 12-of-16 contests, including a 53-minute log during the triple-overtime win against Loyola Marymount and all 45 minutes on Thursday against USC, and is averaging a Pac-10 leading 39.9 minutes per contest. Reiko Thomas (37.1), Ibekwe (33.3), Amina Njonkou (32.2), and Courtney Clements (31.6) are also logging heavy minutes in their starting roles for the Wildcats.

Free Throw Findings: One place the Wildcats have shown an improvement in 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 72.3 percent free throw percentage as a team. Thomas leads the team with a .819 mark while Frazier has earned a .750 mark. The Cats have also limited the opportunities of the opposition, making 51 more free throws (232) than the opposition has attempted (181).

Wiping the Glass: The Wildcats continue to show their rebounding prowess as they have outrebounded the opposition in 10-of-16 contests thus far. The Cats are averaging 40.6 rebounds per game while allowing the opposition 36.1 rebounds each game. The 4.5 rebounding margin the Wildcats have enjoyed ranks the team 63rd in the NCAA.

National Notables: Speaking of the NCAA statistics, Ibekwe is tops in the Pac-10 and is currently 6th in the NCAA in rebounds per game at 12.6. She is also 62nd in blocked shots per game at 1.8, and most recenlty jumped to 92nd in both scoring (15.9) and field goal percentage (472). As a team, the Wildcats are ranked 59th in free throw shooting at 72.3 percent with Thomas checking in at 76th on the individual charts. The Wildcats are also 14th 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 against Boise State.

Incredible Ify: It would be impossible to overstate the impact that Ibekwe had on the Arizona victory over Boise State last month. Her 26-point, 20-rebound performance was the first 20-20 game in program history and only the third in the NCAA at that point of 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.

Block Party: Last season, the Wildcats were one of the prominent teams in the Pac-10 when it came to blocked shots, finishing second in the league with 106 blocks for an average of 3.53 per game. Though the team’s numbers are slightly down this season, Beatrice Bofia went a long way toward pushing the Cats back up that chart as she swatted a season- and career-best six shots last Saturday against Oregon State. That total was good for a share of the 3rd-highest total in program history. Shawntinice Polk holds the single-game record at nine, set March 1, 2003 against California. On two occasions Polk had eight blocks while she also tallied six blocked shots in four other contests, a number originally set by Leslie Martin on December 14, 1981.

Turn It Over: Taking care of the ball has been an up-and-down proposition for the Wildcats this season. Through the first six games of the season, the Cats were averaging 22.3 miscues per contest. However, the team then went through a six-game stretch where the squad committed 15 or fewer turnovers. The last four games has seen the Wildcats revert back to their ways from the start of the campaign as they have averaged 18.5 turnovers during the last four losses.

Dial 3: While three-point shooting has been an achilles’ heel for the Wildcats all season, the team has shown some improvement from beyond the arc. After starting the season averaging just two three-pointers made per game and shooting just over .200, the Cats have gone 25-of-78 (.321) from long range over the past six games, including a sharp 5-for-9 clip against Oregon last Thursday.

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 224 fouls through 16 games with only three 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 eight home contests thus far, the Wildcats are allowing a meager 57.1 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 sweep in Oregon last week, the Wildcats dropped to 1-4 away from home this season. In those four losses, the Wildcats are allowing an average of 70.3 points per game, allowing 68 points in 3-of-4 contests 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 32 assists over the past eight games while committing more turnovers than assists only twice. She leads the squad with 67 assists, good for a 4.1 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 #9/7 Stanford, #11/9 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 #8/6 Texas A&M. The Cats have also played Middle Tennessee, a team that has received votes several times already this season and is currently in both polls.
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 12.6 per game just past the halfway mark, an average that would leave her at 365 through 29 games and shatter the single-season record set by Shawntinice Polk in 2003-04.

Up Next: Arizona has a week away from game play before making the short trip across the state to battle rival Arizona State in Tempe next Saturday, January 24. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Arizona with tip-off scheduled for 12 p.m. The Cats will then make their annual trip to Washington to take on the Huskies (Jan. 29) and Cougars (Jan. 31) to complete the month of January.

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