By Ryan Casey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, December 5, 2005
For Arizona women's basketball team, the weekend started 2-2, but due to some improved shooting and increased intensity, it finished 4-2, and took the championship of the 2005 Fiesta Bowl Classic.
Just how did the Wildcats get there? Easier than I did.
After experiencing the best traffic Tucson had to offer Saturday afternoon, I arrived in McKale Center just minutes before tip-off, only to realize I had left the most important part of my media repertoire in my desk drawer at home: my credentials.
I seriously contemplated making the nearly-30-minute round-trip trek to pick it up but resigned myself to use my Zona Zoo pass instead of missing most of the game, figuring I can just watch from the stands.
As I approach the south entrance adjacent to the ticket window, however, a new thought strikes me.
After walking all the way around McKale (I don't know why I didn't just go a few sections to my right instead of the 16 to my left), I see Hope Nsiah-Kumi, Arizona's assistant director of media relations who is in charge of volleyball and women's basketball, and explain my situation to her.
"Don't worry about it," she assured me. "You shouldn't have any problems."
As I make my way down to press row, I recognize Ryan Finley, a former Arizona Daily Wildcat editor-in-chief who covers the women for the Arizona Daily Star, and the Wildcat's head women's basketball beat writer, Michael Schwartz, who didn't think I was coming.
After a sluggish first half (the women held a slim 36-33 lead over Lehigh), Schwartz and I retreated to the media room to grab some stats, but on our way there, we see a small contingent huddled around a television – USC's football team was destroying UCLA 31-6 at the half.
"Who's the best college football player you've ever seen?" Finley asked Tucson Citizen reporter Ken Brazzle, an obvious allusion to Reggie Bush, who was single-handedly dismantling the Bruins.
"I still remember O.J. (Simpson)," Brazzle responded after a pause. "But Reggie's up there, in my top five."
Retaking our seats as the halftime buzzer sounded, Finley may have best summed up the first 20 minutes on Saturday.
"If the second half is anything like the first, I'm going to need this," he says, tapping the soda in front of him.
He wouldn't need it. Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini had addressed the sloppiness at halftime.
"Coach B fired us up and asked us if we were ready to play, because the first half, we were definitely not playing our game," said junior guard Joy Hollingsworth after Arizona had dispatched Lehigh 78-58, using a 42-25 scoring advantage in the second half.
Shuffling back into the media room, Nsiah-Kumi asked us which players we wanted for post-game comments.
We decided on senior guard Natalie Jones (who had a team-high 23 points), sophomore guard Ashley Whisonant (a season-high 21), and Hollingsworth (who had a solid game with 12).
Hollingsworth is the first to appear and is admittedly nervous, even though she'd been up there numerous times before already this season. (Then again, she was up there all by herself, and a television camera was staring her in the face.)
Following the game, Hope Nsia-Kumi came up to us, jokingly asking us how we could have voted to put two players from fourth-place Lehigh on the all-tournament team.
Bonvicini and Jones came in next, and Whisonant wandered in moments later.
"I thought defensively, our intensity really picked up," Bonvicini said of her team's second-half improvement.
"We're just concentrating on Chicago State right now, and if we continue to play how we played against Lehigh ... I think we'll be OK," Jones said.
Concentrate on the Cougars they did, though the hot shooting from the night before didn't really carry over early.
Arizona shot 41 percent from the field and a perfect 4-of-4 at the line in the first half, good enough for a 30-25 lead at the break.
The action started to heat up about two minutes into the second half, as Jones took a nasty elbow to the face from a Cougar defender.
She didn't take too kindly to the action, and had a few words for the player, but the ref, thinking the terse words were aimed at her, gave Jones only the second technical of her career.
"She's kind of a laid-back, quiet person," said sophomore forward Ché Oh after the game. "It surprised us, too. I was like 23? What? Nat?'"
As the Cougars' Ayesha Neasley stood at the line, sophomore guard Ashley Whisonant gathered her troops, telling them to win the game for Jones.
Even though Chicago State proceeded to open up a 49-45 lead, the Wildcats showed their heart by dominating the Cougars for the next 6:22, holding them scoreless for nearly the rest of the half.
Following the game, a 61-51 victory, Nsiah-Kumi came up to me, Finley and Brazzle, jokingly asking us how we could have possibly voted to put two players from fourth-place Lehigh on the all-tournament team.
We tried to pry the announcement of the tournament's MVP out of her before it was announced, and she finally gave in, telling us that Whisonant would indeed get the award, a well-deserved selection as she averaged 17.5 points, 5.5 assists, three rebounds and 1.5 steals during the tournament.
As I ask Finley and Brazzle whom they voted for, perhaps it was fitting that writers from three different publications had three different votes: Finley for Hollingsworth, myself for Jones and Brazzle for Whisonant.
For the Wildcats, it wasn't the prettiest of weekends, but as Bonvicini said, "It's not always going to be pretty, because we're not the tallest team. But we have to do it from heart."
Ryan Casey is a journalism junior and the sports director at KAMP Student Radio. His radio show can be heard Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on 1570 AM or at www.kamp.arizona.edu.