Column: Another season, same struggles for Arizona women's basketball

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Rebecca Noble and Rebecca Noble and Rebecca Noble | The Daily Wildcat Two Arizona women's basketball players jump for the ball against ASU on Sunday, Jan. 24. The Wildcats dropped two games to rival ASU over the weekend.

A promising season for the Arizona women’s basketball team has quickly become bleak.

The Wildcats started the season at 10-4, including a win over the then-ranked California Golden Bears. Since then, however, Arizona has lost five of its last six games, with the only win coming against last-place Colorado.

The Wildcats now sit at 11-9 overall with a 2-5 Pac-12 Conference record, and things are only getting worse.

Junior forward Dejza James, the team’s leading rebounder, has missed the last four games with a foot injury, and isn’t close to returning.

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Then redshirt freshman point guard, Taryn Griffey, announced she would be taking an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons.

Griffey, who is one of the highest-ranked recruits the program has brought in since Niya Butts’ arrival in 2008, was third on the team in scoring, averaging nine points per game while also connecting on 43.3 percent of her 3-point attempts.

Not only was Griffey one of the team’s best scorers, but more importantly, she was one of the team’s few ball handlers.

“It certainly affects it,” Butts said about the team’s rotation without Griffey. “That takes a point guard away from us, takes the ability to score [away]. She has a great 3-point shot, so that affects us a little bit with the rotation. We got to get that worked out as a staff, and that means everybody else has to step up.”

Malena Washington, the other primary ball handler on the roster, has stepped up. Since Griffey’s departure, Washington is averaging 11.7 points and five assists per game.

Both figures are above their season averages.

Of course, Washington has also seen her time on the court increase. She played a career-high 32 minutes in the loss against ASU on Sunday and she was on the court for 30 minutes Friday in another loss to the Sun Devils.

While Butts believes Washington has handled the increased work load admirably, it’s evident that she needs help.

“She played a lot of minutes, and only turned it over three times, the problem was we just didn’t have anyone else step up at point guard,” Butts said after the team’s loss to ASU on Sunday. “She was having to handle the ball an awful lot, so she was getting fatigued because she was having to dribble. The wings weren’t open like we needed them to be.”

As Butts alluded to, Washington is likely playing too many minutes and the team has suffered as a result.

However, that would also imply that there is a better option than a tired player, and so far there hasn’t been. The roster isn’t exactly brimming with viable options, and Butts has turned to sophomore guard Farrin Bell to take over the backup point guard duties.

So far, Bell has struggled. In the three games without Griffey, Bell has played 43 minutes, has yet to score and has turned the ball over nine times while only recording three assists.

The offense is noticeably more stagnant when Bell is running it; but, to be fair, the mid-season role change has put her in a less than ideal spot to succeed.

The hope is that the situation will improve as Bell and Washington get adjusted to their new roles. In the meantime, it’s imperative that the rest of team increases its productivity to make it easier on them.

“Those two young ladies [Washington and Bell] I think can handle the load, but we just have to be better,” Butts said. “We not only have to be better at the point guard spot, we have to be better on the wing, we have to be better inside.”

Frankly, the Wildcats have no choice but to be better if they want to avoid their fifth losing season in a row. Three of Arizona’s next four games are against teams in the top half of the Pac-12 standings, including the No. 9 Oregon State Beavers, and the losses will continue to pile up if they don’t improve.

And Butts has to put them in a position to do so.

“At the end of the day, we are responsible for how we play,” Butts said. “It’s my responsibility as a coach to make sure our team is prepared and ready for those type of moments. And I have to go back to the drawing board as well and find out how to get our team better prepared.”


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