Stephen F. Austin @ Arizona
Wednesday, Nov. 20
7 p.m. MT
Radio: KTUC AM 1400 (Derrick Palmer and Lisa Salgado)
Through three games in the 2013-14 season, Arizona women’s basketball’s team has taken on a unique identity.
The Wildcats have battled injury and adversity in the early part of the season, paving the way for all four players in the freshmen class to step up and emerge as key contributors.
Freshmen Breanna Workman, LaBrittney Jones, Ashley Merrill and Dejza James are not only an integral piece of this year’s team’s success, but are looking to take Arizona women’s basketball to a whole new level.
Together, the four players are accounting for 294 of the 650 minutes the team has played thus far.
“We are learning, both as players and as a team,” Merrill said. “We are building chemistry early in the year. We are learning more quickly than most freshmen, because we’re getting the minutes to play. It helps us as people. Once we get the skill set and the learning down early, it will help us for the rest of our playing careers.”
So far, the 2013-14 season has not been easy.
All three of the Wildcats’ games have been decided in the final minute—two of the three in overtime.
Most recently, Arizona got its confidence back with a gritty road win at UC Santa Barbara on Saturday.
“This win is going to help us stay positive and motivate us to stay on track,” Jones said. “It’s still early. With every game, we know what we need to work on to improve. We just get back to practice and try to get better.”
For the 17 and 18-year-olds that are starting and playing it IS still early—but they also know that every game counts and are ready to step up to the challenge.
“It feels good to be out there and get the experience sooner than later so we can develop faster, more than other freshmen around the country,” James said. “I feel as we continue to develop, it will help us in the long run and make us better faster.”
Adjusting to college life and learning what it’s like to be a Division I women’s basketball player under head coach Niya Butts has its challenges. Fortunately, the freshmen have plenty of leadership to look up to.
“Coach Butts is someone we look to for motivation every day,” James said. “Her heart and soul are in this game. Seeing her passion is inspiring for all of us players.”
But Butts isn’t the only person the freshmen look up to—the four seniors on the team also help keep the young team in line.
“I think the seniors keep us grounded,” Workman said. “Sometimes, if we get out of ourselves during the game, or because we are freshmen, we might get frustrated and hang our heads. But since they’ve been there before, they can calm us down or get us back on track with the rest of the team.”
Of course at the end of the year, these four will have to fill their roles. But with a top-25 recruiting class on the horizon, there is a lot to be excited about in looking towards the future.
“I think that leadership plays a big role in the future, because once the seniors graduate, we are going to be a young team,” Workman said. “Although we’re going to be a young team, we have five really good players coming in in the class of 2014, so I’m really excited about the future.”
But for now, the freshmen have bought into this team and know that they can be a part of something special, starting now.
“I’m growing as a player, getting more experience, learning a lot more and a lot more quickly than other freshmen are every day,” Jones said. “So through the rest of this year and in years to come, we will be more mature and know that we can be a big part of something special.”
For complete results and continued coverage of Arizona women’s basketball, visit ArizonaWildcats.com, or follow on Twitter @ArizonaWBBall.