Freshman Merrill leaving is latest blow to women's basketball program
Freshman guard Ashley Merrill has left the Arizona women’s basketball team due to personal reasons, according to UA spokesperson Susie Epp and UA head coach Niya Butts.
Merill has withdrawn from the university and has gone back home to California to be with her family.
“She is back at home in California and we 100 percent wish her well and fully support her in that decision,” Butts said. “That’s about all the comment I can have on that.”
Merrill was in the midst of her freshman season with the Wildcats and had been a key bench contributor for an otherwise shorthanded unit. She averaged 4.1 points per game and 2.9 rebounds per game.
Freshman guard Ashley Merrill takes a jump shot during Arizona's 64-79 loss to Cal at McKale Center Monday, Jan. 20.
The loss of Merrill puts Arizona in a dangerous spot with only seven active players and 10 more regular season games. As it was, the team had already lost senior forward Alli Gloyd and freshman forward Dejza James to injuries.
“It’s something that, obviously, you don’t foresee that,” Butts said. “It’s the nature of what’s happened with us this year and we have to make the most of it.”
Players leaving/transferring have become a fixture during Butts’ almost six-year tenure at Arizona. Before the departure of Merrill, 21 women’s basketball players had either transferred away from or left the University of Arizona.
During the last two years alone, the program has lost seven players. Among those who have recently left are center Aley Rohde, guard Erin Butler, forward Shereen Sutherland and guard Lynette Holmes.
This not only was unforeseen but it is also not what Butts and her coaching staff needs in the middle of a frustrating 4-15 season. They now have the task of managing minutes to ensure players are fresh, all the while trying to secure their first Pac-12 Conference victory.
Of course, the current players are preparing for upcoming games knowing that their minute totals could very well reach season highs. Junior guard Candice Warthen said the loss will have a legitimate effect on the team and they have to get through it.
“Well, it’s going to have a tremendous impact on our stamina,” Warthen said. “We’re down to seven people and half of us are already injured. We’ve just got to be smart about what we do with our bodies and make sure we get treatment. Practice isn’t going to be able to be as impactful as it has been because we don’t have enough people.”
Arizona practices now consist mainly of additional practice players that come in to fill the many gaps left on the floor due to injuries and departures. However, the team still exudes an aura of confidence.
Senior guard Kama Griffitts is second on the team in scoring at 10.3 points per game and said the team has to grind out the rest of the season.
“I think naturally in midseason, you’re going to feel a little bit more fatigue,” Griffitts said. “We’ve just got to push through it and grind out.”
The Wildcats have lost eight games in a row and they had a five-game losing streak earlier in the season. Last season Arizona also had eight-game and-five game losing streaks.
In 2012-13, the Wildcats went 12-18, in 2011-12 they were 15-17, in 2009-10 their record was 14-17 and in 2008-09, they went 12-19 in Butts’ first season. Under Butts, the Wildcats have only played in one post-season national tournament, the Women’s NIT in 2010-11 when they went 21-12.
Arizona’s rough season has also included legal problems as on Jan. 3, Deadspin.com reported that a former player of first-year assistant coach Sean LeBeauf is suing him.
—Follow Roberto Payne @HouseOfPayne555