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Game Notes: Dec. 16, 2008
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 12/16/2008
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Dec. 16, 2008

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Date: December 17, 2008
Location: McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: KTUC AM 1400 (Derrick Palmer, Alysiah Bond)

Tip Off Time: Arizona plays its final home contest of the 2008 calendar year on Wednesday evening against UC Riverside, the third Big West school the Wildcats have tangled with this season. The Cats will take 12 days off before heading to Boise, Idaho to take on Boise State on December 29 to wrap up the non-conference portion of the 2008-09 slate.

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.

Long Beach State Recap: Freshman guard Reiko Thomas hit 11-of-12 free throws and finished with a career-high 23 points to lead the Wildcats to a 56-47 win over Long Beach State on Sunday afternoon. Sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe added 15 points and a game-best 17 rebounds as the Cats battled back from a 1-point halftime deficit to claim back-to-back wins for the first time in a month. The Wildcats won the game despite shooting just 29 percent from the field thanks in part to a 46-36 rebounding advantage and a 21-of-26 (.808) clip from the charity stripe.

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). She is assisted by Sue Darling, Chance Lindley and Brandy Manning.

Holiday Cheer: The month of December has been a joyous month for the Wildcats since the calendar turned to 2000, owning a 39-22 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 captured the only previous meeting between the two teams back on December 7, 2002, a 95-66 verdict here in McKale Center. Dee Dee Wheeler hit six three-pointers and finished with a game-high 28 points while Shawntinice Polk had 18 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Wildcats to the lopsided victory. The two teams are contracted to meet again next season in Riverside, a game that will take place in the UCR Student Activities Center.

Scouting the Highlanders: UC Riverside is currently 3-5 on the season after dropping a 68-45 decision at Arizona State on Sunday evening. Prior to that, however, the Highlanders upset #19-ranked Vanderbilt, 50-47, in a home victory. Kemie Nkele is the only Riverside player averaging in double figures, tallying 18.0 points while sharing team-leading rebounding totals at 5.9 per contest.

Wild West: The Wildcats are playing their third game of the non-conference slate against a Big West Conference opponent. Arizona has a pair of home wins on Sunday afternoons against those teams, posting a 54-47 victory over UC Santa Barbara on November 23 before capturing the 56-47 triumph over Long Beach State three days ago. The Cats are also 1-1 against Western Athletic Conference opposition (Hawaii) and 2-0 against teams from the West Coast Conference (LMU and USD).

On This Date: Arizona posted one of its most lopsided wins in program history on December 17, 1994 as the Wildcats pasted Sacramento State, 105-50. Jacinda Sweet led five Arizona players in double figures with 21 points, helping match a school record for largest margin of victory that stood for over 15 seasons.

Injury Update: Though the Wildcats avoided any new injuries on Sunday afternoon, word did come from the medical staff that freshman Jhakia McDonald will miss the remainder of the season with a stress fracture in her right foot. 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.

Nothing Ify About Ibekwe: Sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe was rewarded for a stellar week of play by being named the U.S. Bank Pac-10 Women’s Basketball Player of the Week for Dec. 8-14, announced Monday by Commissioner Tom Hansen. Ibekwe averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds in helping the Wildcats to victories over San Diego and Long Beach State. She tallied 17 points and 7 rebounds against the Toreros, then registered 15 points and 17 boards against the 49ers.

Award Absence: The award given to Ibekwe was the first for an Arizona player since Natalie Jones earned the award on February 14, 2005. Arizona has captured the weekly honor 35 times in its history with Shawntinice Polk and Adia Barnes leading the way with seven awards apiece.

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 9.6 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 six occasions, including a 53-minute log during the triple-overtime win against Loyola Marymount, and is averaging 39.3 minutes per contest. Reiko Thomas (35.9), Amina Njonkou (34.6) and Ibekwe (30.2) are all logging heavy minutes in their starting roles for the Wildcats.

Free Throw Findings: One place the Wildcats have shown an improvement through the first nine 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 73.3 percent free throw percentage as a team. Thomas leads the team with a .841 mark while both Frazier and Njonkou are hovering near 75 percent. In the last two wins, the Cats have hit 35-of-44 free throws, a mark just under .800.

Nothing For Free: While finding success at the free throw line, the Cats have also limited the opportunities of the opposition. Through nine games, the Wildcats have made 65 more free throws than its opposition, an average of more than seven more conversions per game. Mocking a formula made famous by legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Wildcats are also converting more free throws (137) than the opposition is attempting (112).

Board Members: After tallying 20 total double-doubles last season, 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 third of the season as the Wildcats have outrebounded the opposition in seven of the first nine contests. The Cats are averaging 42.6 rebounds per game while allowing the opposition 35.4 rebounds each game. The 7.2 rebounding margin the Wildcats have enjoyed is good enough for 41st in the NCAA and 6th in Pac-10, a stat led both locally and nationally by UCLA at 17.8.

National Notables: Speaking of the NCAA statistics, Ibekwe is tops in the Pac-10 and is currently 8th in the NCAA in rebounds per game at 11.6. She is also two rebounds ahead of her sister, Chinyere, who is a senior at UCLA and is averaging 9.5 per game. Njonkou is just outside the top 100 nationally at 8.3 rebounds per game. As a team, the Wildcats are also 53rd in free throw shooting at 73.3 percent and 20th in personal fouls committed at 14.8 per contest.

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: A problem spot early on for the Wildcats was their hefty number of turnovers. However, the teams is showing signs of improvement as they give more attention to taking care of the basketball. In the last three contest, the Wildcats have not committed more than 15 turnovers, that coming after a 29-turnover performance at Middle Tennessee back on November 28. For the first time this season, the team is now averaging less than 20 turnovers per game, allowing for more possessions and opportunities to score.

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 over two per game, while the opposition is averaging over six made three-pointers per game. 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 133 fouls through 9 games with only two foul-outs. That total is 3rd in the Pac-10 and 20th in the NCAA, calculating to a 14.8 per game average. 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 an even .500 field goal percentage while Ify Ibekwe is firing at a .474 clip (46-of-97).

Rei of Sunshine: Freshman guard Reiko Thomas has been an important part of the Arizona success thus far in 2008-09. Thrust into the starting lineup from her first game against Toledo on November 14, Thomas is currently second on the team in scoring at 12.2 points per game. Despite logging over 35 minutes per game, Thomas has been able to maintain her focus at the free throw line with a team-leading 84.1 percent clip. She is also averaging 4.2 rebounds and a pair of assists per contest. She tallied a career-best 23 points on Sunday afternoon against Long Beach State and has connected on 10-of-21 from the field over the past two games after going 0-for-9 against Louisiana Tech.

Break Out: While the Cats struggled on their recent road swing, they can take heart in the fact that they have played some of their best basketball here inside the McKale Center. Only a close loss to #4/3-ranked Texas A&M has blemished their home record thus far. The defense has been particularly stingy as the Cats have not allowed more than 60 points to an opponent on Olson Court and are allowing a miserly .345 shooting percentage to their foes (82-of-236).

Dishing It Up: Junior point guard Ashley Frazier recorded a career-best 8 assists on Saturday evening in the loss to Louisiana Tech. Frazier leads the Wildcats in assists with 30, good for an average of almost 4.5 per contest. Her tally also ranks her among the Pac-10 elite as she sits in 4th place in the league, less than one full assist behind league-leader Briann January of Arizona State.

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, #12/9 California and #21/21 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 got off 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 108 points in three games to run her total to 799. Her current scoring average of 12.0 per game would push her over the 1,000-point mark in 17 more games, or in a televised game on February 26 here at home against Washington State.

Care To Speculate: 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 now off for the next 12 days before visiting Boise State on Monday, December 29 for the final non-conference game of the season. Later that week, the Cats tip-off the 18-game Pac-10 slate at home against California (Jan. 2) and Stanford (Jan. 4).

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