It’s only the 14th of December, we’re still in volleyball season, and the Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball team has already won more games than all of last season. By virtue of Sunday’s 49-44 victory over Alabama Birmingham at McKale Center, the Wildcats won their fourth-straight game to move to 6-3, and the memories of the 5-25 injury-plagued nightmare are seeming further and further in the rear view mirror.
“That’s not really a feat,” Arizona coach Niya Butts said of the improvement. “We’re making sure we take care of home court because we have a number of games at home. This is a place where we know we can get those wins; right now, we’re focusing on improving every game.”
The Wildcats stumbled at first, losing to Bakersfield and Texas Tech, before beating UC Santa Barbara and Florida International. Arizona lost to Toledo by 15, then bested Grambling State, Wake Forest, Southern, and the Blazers- a team it lost to by 10 a year ago. The win over the ACC’s Demon Deacons came in overtime, 72-69, in Winston-Salem, as Candice Warthen scored 21 points and grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds at 5-foot-5. There are two more non-league games, at Stephen F. Austin Dec. 20 and at home versus Tennessee Martin Dec. 29 before the Pacific-12 season tips off with Washington State Jan. 3. From current statistics, the Wildcats would lead the conference in three-point defense.
“Just being better, having more bodies,” Coach Butts said she’d attribute the wins to. “We had a lot of games like this last year, six-point games, three-point games where we didn’t come out on top, so right now, we’ll go over it again and again and hope it will continue.”
Warthen leads the team with 12.3 points per game, and seven players score between five and nine points. South Mountain High School’s Alli Gloyd leads the team with 6.4 rebounds.
“We have pretty good balance, every game there’s three or four people,” Butts said.
Warthen, the redshirt senior from Georgia, would like to play out her career with a trip to the NCAA Tournament, an event the Cats have been shut out from since 2005.
“This year, we’ve really focused on making our record better,” Warthen said. “It’s a great feeling, we have to continue to do what we know how to do, rebound the ball and execute on offense, we’ve been doing a good job of that, but the more the season progresses, we have to focus on getting stops, executing on personnel, and all the details. All the little things count.”
Sophomore guard Malena Washington is in her first season with Arizona after transferring from Tyler Junior College in Texas and scored 11 Sunday while her team let a 13-point halftime lead fade to one.
“As a whole we have to stay focused, not just one half but the whole game,” Washington said. “We’ve been coming out with less intensity.”