Pac-10 preview: the University of Arizona

This is the fifth of a 10-part series previewing the Pac-10 basketball teams

by Daniel Uribe

Arizona as a program has been through some turbulent times in the past several seasons, but under third-year Head Coach Niya Butts, the team hopes to return to the prominence it once enjoyed in the Pac-10.

Despite inheriting a thin roster, Butts has guided the Wildcats to steady improvement while at the same time building a team. After finishing 14-17 last year (6-12 Pac-10), Butts hopes that a combination of veteran players and a solid recruiting class will help the Wildcats continue to ascend in the conference standings.

Foremost among the veterans is senior forward Ify Ibekwe. The all Pac-10 performer, both on the second and defensive team, was the only player to average a double-double in the conference last season (14 ppg, 11.4 rpg) and will be looked upon to dominate opponents as well as lead the team.

Last year, freshman Davellyn White served notice that she would be a force in the Pac-10 for years to come after scoring 27 points in her first collegiate game against Iona. She would later set a school-record in scoring 39 points versus Oregon. White was named Pac-10 freshman of the year, and led the team in scoring 15.7 ppg (4.3 rpg, 2.5 apg). Along with Ibekwe, White will be expected to provide a potent inside-outside punch.

If Arizona is to increase their wins, however, the rest of the team will need to step up – especially returning starters Reiko Thomas and Soana Lucet. Junior guard Thomas (7.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg) has shown flashes of brilliance and can be a potent threat from the three-point line. She needs to provide offense and to keep defenses honest as they double teammate White and Ibekwe.

Senior forward Lucet came in last year as a transfer from the College of Southern Idaho, and provided an immediate post presence for the Wildcats. The player from New Caledonia averaged 12.9 ppg and 6.7 rpg. Despite only being 6-1, Lucet has performed solidly at center for Arizona, but the question is how will she fare defensively against the best post players in the conference?

Also returning is Brooke Jackson, the junior guard from Mesa Community College She was a solid addition for Arizona, starting in 20 games and averaging 7.9 ppg and 3.2 rpg. Also returning is junior guard Tasha Dickey (1.9 ppg) and senior forward Amanda Pierson (1.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg).

A big question for Arizona will be at the point. Despite only losing one player to graduation last year, that person was the teams point guard, Ashley Frazier. Fortunately for Butts, she has Arkansas transfer Shanita Arnold. The junior guard, who sat out last year due to transfer rules, averaged 5.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg and 2.2 apg during her sophomore year at Arkansas, and more will be expected of her as she moves into the point guard role for the ‘Cats.

New players include Taylor Dalrymple, a 6-1 forward from Gulf Coast Community College, and freshmen Erica Barnes and Candice Warthen. Dalrymple will be expected to contribute immediately after coming off a season where her team set a 32-1 record and captured the National Junior College crown. She averaged 6.7 ppg and 6.2 rpg while shooting 45.6 percent during her last season at Gulf Coast.

The 6-2 forward Barnes – out of Sacramento, CA – averaged 14.9 ppg and 10.3 rpg during high school. Warthen, a 5-5 guard, led the state of Georgia in scoring, averaging 28.5 ppg. She also averaged 7.3 rpg, 7.2 steals per game and 3.9 apg.

Arizona will open its season on Nov. 12 at Wichita State.

Daniel Uribe is a Los Angeles native and a freelance writer