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Column: Women's basketball aims for 'Breakthrough'

The Arizona women's basketball season has not gone according to plan

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Rebecca Noble / The Daily Wildcat

Arizona women's basketball guard Candice Warthen (1) attempts to block UAB guard T'erra Lewis (14) during Arizona's 49-44 win against UAB in McKale Center on Dec. 14. After losing six straight conference games, Warthen and the Wildcats are trying to find a breakthough point this season.

The slogan for Arizona women’s basketball this year is “Breakthrough.” It’s now mid-January, and the team is still looking for its first breakthrough win of the season.

After getting swept by Stanford and California on the road over the weekend, the Wildcats remain winless against Pac-12 Conference opponents. Utah is the only other team with a 0-6 conference record.

It’s not hard to find a precedent of Arizona struggling mightily in conference play. Just last year, the UA went 1-17 in the Pac-12 — the lone win coming against ASU.

This season, the Wildcats have been more competitive in some of their losses, but moral victories don’t mean much at this level of competition.

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With four of the next six games at home, Arizona must find a way to come out on top in at least a couple of those meetings. If not, head coach Niya Butts’ seat could turn from hot to flaming.

Playing consistent basketball has plagued Butts’ team all season, with the Wildcats going through stretches of nonchalant defense before turning it on once they’re already in a big hole.

That was the case on Sunday against Cal when they climbed all the way back from a 17-point deficit to take the lead late in the second half.

In the final five minutes with the game on the line, the UA looked physically drained and couldn’t keep up the intensity. The Bears would go on to win by 12.

Turnovers have also been a constant issue, and many times, they are unforced errors, such as making an errand pass or not catching the ball. Those types of mistakes signify a lack of focus that shouldn’t still be an issue more than halfway into the season.

Then again, coaching and discipline can only be blamed for so much of the problem. The talent and size just isn’t there against schools like Stanford, which features multiple players taller than anyone on the Arizona roster.

Smaller teams are traditionally more oriented toward shooting the ball, but the Wildcats lack anyone who can consistently knock down jumpers.

Freshman Charise Holloway is the team’s best option from outside as she makes 31 percent of her 3-point attempts. Even that isn’t a high enough mark to frighten opposing defenses.

Without a strong scoring attack, the burden falls on the defense to play nearly flawless, and that might be too much to ask for what is already a young team.

For Arizona to earn a respectable conference record, it will require all-out focus on practically every possession. That starts with upperclassmen like Candice Warthen and Alli Gloyd setting the example of how to come out the gates and immediately create a tone.

If the Wildcats struggle again at home this weekend, the excuse of “it’s still early” will no longer be enough to justify the play on the court. 

These upcoming games will either revive Arizona’s season or give athletic director Greg Byrne another reason to reconsider Butts’ job security going forward.

A breakthrough is most certainly in need.

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Follow Ezra Amacher on Twitter.


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