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Women's basketball gets strong support in N.J.

By Bryan Rosenbaum
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 24, 1999
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Associated Press
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona women's basketball head coach Joan Bonvicini, right, looks up at the scoreboard and hugs guard Reshea Bristol after their 87-84 overtime win against Florida in the first round of the NCAA Women's Tournament at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J., March 12. Bristol's last second shot in regulation time propelled the Wildcats into overtime with the Gators.

The UA women's basketball team traveled further than any other team in the NCAA Tournament for the first and second rounds as it went to New Jersey, but the Wildcats were not without support.

In fact, there was a little bit of everybody at the games in Piscataway, located on the Rutgers University campus. Families, cheerleaders, band members, Wilma the Wildcat and even the school president cheered the Wildcats on to a victory over Florida and were there for support after the loss to Rutgers.

"We appreciate all the support and all the fans who've traveled with us," Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini said. "The people who came with us had a great time, at least until (Sunday night)."

Members of the Bonvicini family came down from Connecticut while junior guard Felecity Willis played in front of family members from the New York/New Jersey area and other players had family come in from around the country.

The biggest surprise was the appearance of UA President Peter Likins, who was on the east coast for a convention and fit the first round game into his busy schedule Friday night.

"I was in Washington, D.C., for a council on competitiveness on Thursday and Friday," Likins said. "The schedule of the meeting made it possible to fly up here for the game tonight, but I have to go back to Tucson tomorrow (Saturday)."

Within an hour of the men's basketball team's loss to Oklahoma in the first round of the tournament, the women flew the flag for Arizona. They did not disappoint, rallying from 17 down to knock off Florida in overtime, 87-84.

"I'm very pleased. It was a really tough, competitive game," Likins said. "The players were playing their hearts out."

Likins was disappointed to leave the following day, but was happy to get out of the frigid weather New Jersey served up in mid-March.

"It's just a little bit cold. It'll be nice to go back to Tucson after this," he said.

The rest of the thin-blooded Arizona fans weren't going anywhere, even as snow began to fall before Sunday night's game. The weather may have caused havoc with travel plans the following day, but it was worth it for Wildcat fans, who were not going to stop cheering until the final whistle blew.

Helping them were the band and cheerleaders, who received a free trip to New Jersey to do what they do best. They entertained at pep rallies held before both games and made plenty of noise during the games.

The cheerleaders were especially grateful to the Hambacher family, which donated money to send them to wherever the Wildcats are playing. On the Saturday between games, the squad went to New York City and spent the entire day shopping and sightseeing.

"I've been to Hawaii, New York, New Mexico and California a couple of times, just for cheerleading," cheerleader Jeremy Combs said. "These are places I wouldn't get to go to if it wasn't for alumni support."

After hearing news of the men's loss in Milwaukee, the spring was taken away from the step of the cheerleaders, but only briefly. As the team trailed by 17 points to Florida midway through the second half, they were there cheering on the women in the comeback victory and one of the most exciting games in school history.

"I've never been as excited at any men's game I've been to as I was at that women's game," Combs said.

Other cheerleaders uttered similar sentiments about the come from behind victory for the women.

"Our job is to keep the fans into the game and keep our team winning," cheerleader Aaron Young said. "(The support) is one of the reasons why our team came back and won."

Bryan Rosenbaum can be reached at