Junior guard Candice Warthen made an impactful return to the court in Arizona women’s basketball’s 80-65 exhibition victory over Fort Lewis at McKale Center on Saturday.
After suffering an injury towards the end of the 2011-12 season, Warthen made her return, scoring 23 points, grabbing five steals and three rebounds and adding two assists.
“Candice showed what we’ve been missing for the last year and a half, in terms of what she was able to do today and come out there and play,” Arizona head coach Niya Butts said. “This is her first true game since going out. Boy, she has got a motor. Her athleticism is going to help us so much down the stretch, so we are just so happy to have her back.”
Arizona’s four freshmen also came to play, accounting for 36 of the Wildcats’ 80 points and 29 of their 38 rebounds.
Freshman forward LaBrittney Jones posted a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds, also adding two blocks and three steals. Ten of her 24 points came at the free throw line, where she hit 10 of 12 shots.
“I could have played better, but it felt great because I haven’t played in a year,” Jones said. “I was ready to get back on the court.”
Freshman forward Dejza James added nine rebounds and six points for Arizona, while freshman guard Ashley Merrill had five points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“We played four freshmen. A lot,” Butts said. “And they were able to get production. They went to the free throw line and knocked down big shots. No matter who you’re playing, you still have to make those shots. We feel pretty good about our newcomers and we were able to focus in.”
Seniors Kama Griffitts and Carissa Crutchfield added 13 points and seven assists, respectively.
As a team, the Wildcats forced 28 turnovers.
“We always focus on defense that is our number one priority,” Warthen said. “I’m more of a defensive player. I love to score, but I like getting after people on defense too. There were a lot of opportunities for me to get steals, so I took advantage of them.”
Arizona will open its regular season at the Iona Tip-off Tournament in New Rochelle, N.Y. on Friday, Nov. 8 and Saturday, Nov. 9.
For complete results and continued coverage of Arizona women’s basketball, visit ArizonaWildcats.com, or follow on Twitter @ArizonaWBBall.
Head Coach Niya Butts
On the team’s overall performance:
“Nice to finally play with the lights on, we were able to see a lot from our group. I think our newcomers really had an opportunity to get quality minutes. I was happy for the most part with their performance, but we have to get better defensively…defensively, as well as in transition and half court. But overall, I thought not a bad performance considering we had seven dressed and ready to play”
On defense getting better despite forcing 28 turnovers:
“Absolutely we can get better from that. We were getting beat on one-on-one penetration and it was forcing us to have to come over and help too often, which was breaking down our defense, so we have to clean that up. We are supposed to deny one pass away. I know you’re not necessarily looking at that, but we didn’t do a good job of that.”
On Candice Warthen’s influence on the team:
“I think she is becoming more of a leader. Last year, having to sit out, I think she grew a lot as a player, grew a lot as a leader and understanding what is expected on the floor, understanding what she has to bring to the team. She has really worked hard to make sure she does a good job.”
On what improvements can be made:
“Defense. I don’t think we defended well. We forced 28 turnovers but I think our transition defense and our half-court defense can get a lot better. We did a good job of sliding up and taking some charges early, but there were also some instances when we didn’t take some charges that we should have. As a coach, you always want more. And I want more for our team. I think we can be better. We had 16 turnovers. Hey, we scored 80 points. Just think if we had some of those possessions back. You always have to be thinking about getting better. We’re not satisfied with good enough. Good enough is not good enough in our book.”
On the roughness of the game towards the end:
“It’s all a part of it. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. For me, as a competitor, those things don’t really bother me, they don’t bother us. We have to play the game and the officials have to call the game. So whatever that is, we are willing to work through it.”