The Arizona women’s basketball schedule only has about 30 games, but by all accounts, the Wildcats are in for a long season.
The UA is coming off of a 12-18 year, where it went 4-14 in Pac-12 play, had an eight-game losing streak and then lost four in a row to close the season. That was with future WNBA player Davellyn Whyte.
The season was already projected to be a tough one without Whyte, who had 2,059 points and 4,243 minutes in 126 games in her four years in Tucson, but before the season started, the Wildcats’ prospects grew even more dim.
Senior forward Alli Gloyd tore her ACL a couple weeks ago and will miss the season. Last year Gloyd started all 30 games for the Wildcats, averaging 9.4 points per game, third on the team, and was second on the team in rebounding with six a game.
She was also fourth on the team in assists with 23. Whyte led the team in points, 16.8 a game, rebounds, 6.3 a game, and assists, 155, so Gloyd’s numbers would have gone up.
Arizona does benefit from the return of junior guard Candice Warthen, who missed last season with a knee injury. She scored 23 points, had five steals, three rebounds and two assists in Arizona’s 80-65 exhibition win over Fort Lewis. She played 38 out of 40 minutes.
The Wildcats played only seven players. Exhibitions against Division II teams are supposed to be chances to watch walk-ons, players who usually only enter the game after 11 other teammates have.
Only two of the seven Wildcats who entered the game last Saturday played last year. Senior forward Erica Barnes and sophomore guard Keyahndra Cannon didn’t play because of injuries.
Arizona has a solid freshman class, led by LaBrittney Jones, who was ranked as the 23rd best forward and 87th best rookie overall by ESPN. Jones missed last season too, also with a torn ACL.
If someone else gets hurt, the UA might need to go recruiting in the Student Recreation Center.
With Whyte, the second best player in the history of Arizona women’s basketball, the Wildcats only made it to a national post season tournament once, a first round loss in the National Women’s Invitational Tournament in 2011.
During the career of Adia Barnes, the UA’s best women’s basketball player ever, the Wildcats made it to the NCAA tournament twice and won the WNIT. Arizona won 15 games in 2011-12, 14 in 2009-10, 12 in 2008-09, 10 in 2007-08, 11 in 2006-07 and eight in 2005-06.
In 2004-05, the UA went 20-12 and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. So what happened?
The chain of events started when Arizona’s best player at the time, Shawntinice Polk, died suddenly on Sept. 26, 2005. The UA was devastated.
Then, in 2008, Arizona fired its head coach, Joan Bonvicini, who is now 11th on the NCAA Division I all-time wins list for women’s basketball. She coaches Seattle, which was picked to win the WAC this season by both its coaches and the media.
Arizona replaced Bonvicini with Niya Butts, a charismatic and popular coach who got a contract extension to 2016 after the WNIT berth.
Under Butts, Arizona can recruit well, getting players like Whyte, Jones and Aley Rohde, the 36th best recruit according to ESPN, but can’t capitalize on them. Rohde transferred to UNLV in 2012 after one season.
The tragedy of Polk’s death has echoed through the years and the UA has yet to recover. So it is fair to ask, are the Wildcats cursed?
—Follow James Kelley @JamesKelley520