Does Arizona have the depth in its lineup to challenge for the Pac-10 title?
Hard to say, especially since the Wildcats' leading passer and free-throw shooter, Julie Brase, and second-best scorer and rebounder, Krista Warren, have departed.
The outside shooting will be present in the form of starting guards Aimee Grzyb and Dee-Dee Wheeler, and possibly redshirt sophomore Katrina Lindner, who has looked impressive at times coming off the bench in the preseason.
Junior center Danielle Adefeso has been stellar as well, notching 10 points and five rebounds in just 10 minutes during last week's game. With Arizona's lack of size down low, look for Adefeso and Polk to share some minutes on the court to compensate. Look for 6-foot-2 freshman forward/center Shannon Hobson to make a difference in the paint as well.
Who will lead this team?
Grzyb is the only senior on her team, and her leadership has already been missed. Her absence in last week's exhibition loss due to a minor knee bruise was the difference, according to Wheeler.
With Grzyb expected to be ready for Saturday's regular season opener, the team hopes its self-assured leader will not miss any more playing time due to injury.
This year's team consists of just three women who have played more than two seasons at Arizona. There are three freshmen and six sophomores on this year's squad. Those facts alone suggest that this team will be crying out for someone to guide it, both physically and mentally.
Grzyb seems to be the unanimous choice to fill that role.
What is the identity of this team?
To be determined. The Wildcats are ranked No. 22 in the preseason poll, and are expected to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season and the fifth time in seven years.
This puts a great deal of pressure on a team that seems to be saturated with talent and ability but is dangerously low on real-game experience.
Gryzb, Wheeler and sophomore center Shawntinice Polk must be the trio that gels this team together in order for the Wildcats to accomplish what is expected of them. The team will depend on both starting guards to hit key shots from the outside, thus keeping enough pressure off of Polk to give her more scoring chances under the hoop.
Who is the most dangerous player on the court?
Polkey, Polkey, Polkey.
One of the top centers in women's college hoops, Polk led the Wildcats by averaging a double-double in scoring and rebounding as a freshman last season. Against undersized clubs, the 6-foot-5 Polk will give her opponents 40 minutes of pain.
Polk also went to the free-throw line more than the next two Wildcats combined in 2002-03. Her only downside is her Shaq-like numbers from the stripe, shooting just under 60 percent last season.
If Polk can improve her free throw percentage, it will add another dangerous aspect to her play as well as that of the team. Her opponents won't be as inclined to hack her down low, allowing for more easy buckets.
Can this team win the Pac-10?
It probably can. But it probably won't. With only one player - Grzyb - leaving the squad, UA coaches must be drooling over the team's prospects for 2004-05. But Arizona is one of the youngest teams in the country. It will be hard for the freshmen, as well as the sophomores who will be seeing their first real playing time this season, to handle the pressure that comes along with the expectations.
Regardless, the team has a chance - albeit less than 50-50 - to be as good or better than it was last year. Polk is a year older, as are Grzyb and Wheeler, along with two new starters, sophomores Natalie Jones and CoCoa Sanford. Since it's still unknown just how deep this team is, the Wildcats may be the biggest question mark in the conference.
Where does Arizona stand against the nation's elite?
Can the Wildcats contend with No.1 UConn? Nope. Not this season. But they're more than capable of beating the better part of the Pac-10 along with most squads from other major conferences. Above-average teams like Oklahoma and Notre Dame - who upset Arizona in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament - are beatable.
At best, the Wildcats will make it as far as Lute Olson's young 2001-02 team that somehow found itself in the Sweet 16. But at worst, the UA women will still find a way to avoid the Women's NIT.