Arizona rolls to Fiesta Bowl Classic title, 16th consecutive home victory

By Amanda Branam
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, December 8, 2003

In the first game of this weekend's home tournament for the Arizona women's basketball team, 6-foot-5-inch sophomore center Shawntinice Polk took the opening tip against 5-foot-7-inch American guard Chanel Spriggs.

For the Wildcat opponents in the Fiesta Bowl Women's Classic in McKale Center, it seemed to be a metaphor for the weekend. The opponents were outsized and outmatched. Davids playing in a world of Goliaths and on Goliath's home court.

The theme of the weekend: Yes, size does matter.

The Wildcat women defeated American 75-63 in the first round Saturday, and routed Massachusetts 74-42 Sunday to become the Fiesta Bowl Woman's Classic champions. In the process, Arizona also accomplished a pre-March "Sweet 16" feat, breaking its record for consecutive home victories by pushing its current streak to 16.

Head coach Joan Bonvicini played with two centers on the court for much of the game Polk and 6-foot-2-inch junior center Danielle Adefeso against American (4-3), exploiting the Eagles' lack of height.

During the first half, the Eagles never had the lead but remained within striking distance, never trailing by more than nine points and going into the half down 31-24.

The Wildcats shot 12 of 28 from the floor, went 1 of 3 from behind the arc and were a dismal 6 of 13 from the free throw line in the first half. In the second half, the Wildcats picked up the pace and shot 51.6 percent from the field (16 of 31), but failed to make a 3-pointer in the half.

"We weren't able to contend with their post play," said American head coach Shann Hart. "We don't have the depth they have in the post, and that was the difference."

Polk and Adefeso both notched double-doubles in Saturday's game. Polk had 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Adefeso put up 13 points and 10 boards in just 19 minutes. The duo's rebounding combined with Polk's six blocked shots contributed to American's 37.9 percent (25 of 66) shooting for the game.

"At moments, we were really good," Bonvicini said. "We played better defense and we shot better. I'm real pleased we got to the free throw line. I'd still like to get more steals."

The tournament's other two teams, UMass and Utah State, played before the Wildcats Saturday, with UMass coming out on top 61-50, sending the Minutewomen to the championship game against Arizona. The Wildcats scored the first basket and never looked back against Massachusetts. Starting both Adefeso and Polk put the Minutewomen at a serious height disadvantage from the first whistle. UMass hung with the Wildcats for most of the first half, but the end of the first half foreshadowed the things to come.

With just under five minutes left in the first the score was 25-18, but UMass would not score again in the half. The Wildcats went into the locker room up 33-18 on 43.3 percent shooting (13 of 30) after holding UMass to just 25 percent shooting (6 of 24).

Things did not improve for UMass, as the Wildcat lead extended to 20 points with 16 minutes left, 25 points with 13:18 left and 30 with 7:40 to play.

"We had no answer to their size," said UMass head coach Marnie Darko, a former teammate of Bonvicini. "To Arizona's credit, (we were) intimidated. Twenty-eight turnovers is indicative of poor play."

Top scorers for the Wildcats were Polk with 18 points and junior point guard Dee-Dee Wheeler with 13. The Wildcats forced 28 turnovers and made 16 of 26 free throws (61.5 percent).

"I'm happy we're forcing turnovers," Bonvicini said. "We're doing better getting to the free throw line, but I want our percentage to go up."

Polk was named MVP of the tournament, and Wheeler and Adefeso were named to the all-tournament team for the UA. Also named to the all-tournament team were Brook Campbell from UMass, Ali Aird from Utah State and Chanel Hunt from American. American won yesterday's consolation game 60-41 over Utah State.