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Women's Hoops: Wildcats await NCAA tourney bid

CLAIRE C. LAURENCE/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Junior center Shawntinice Polk goes up for one of her eight points during Arizona's 76-68 loss to USC in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament in San Jose, Calif., last weekend. Arizona is still considered a bubble team and will find out its postseason fate Sunday.
By Lindsey Frazier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, March 11, 2005
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The Arizona women's basketball team knows all too well the difference a year can make.

Last season, the Wildcats tied Stanford for the Pacific 10 Conference championship, posting a 24-9 overall record and 14-4 conference mark.

Arizona entered the 2005 season picked to tie Stanford in the preseason Pac-10 women's basketball media poll, but because of frequent injuries finished 19-11, 11-8 and fifth in the conference.

"I've never been an excuse person, but I just think (injuries) definitely have contributed (to our record)," said Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini. "The part is consistency from practice of not having players or not having them in games."

Despite an early exit from last weekend's Pac-10 Tournament, the Wildcats hope to secure an NCAA Tournament bid.

"We still have a chance," Bonvicini said. "It's out of our hands, so we'll see. We're definitely a bubble team. There's some prognosticators that are pretty good that say we're in.

"It's hard for everybody because you want to practice, but you don't want to get your hopes up too high," she said. "In my gut? Yes, I do (think we will receive a bid)."

Arizona must wait until Sunday to learn its fate, when the selection show will be aired at 3 p.m. on ESPN.

"In my heart, I'm nervous," said sophomore forward-center Shannon Hobson. "It's one of those things to be on the bubble. You don't want to get your hopes up, but I don't see why not. I see that we have a really, really good chance of getting in. We're trying to keep that medium. In my heart, I don't see any reason why they wouldn't pick us."

Bonvicini said that should Arizona receive a bid, it faces a comparable team - Michigan State - in the first round of the tournament, which begins March 19.

Last season, Arizona lost to Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 72-60.

"It's a very physical game once you get to the NCAA Tournament, and if we are fortunate enough to get in, we're going to get a team similar to us that's in a power conference, right in the middle of their conference," Bonvicini said.

A column featured on predicts that Arizona will receive a No. 10 seed and play No. 7 seed Texas Christian on March 20 in Chapel Hill, N.C., in the Chattanooga, Tenn., bracket.

Pac-10 foes ASU, USC, Oregon and No. 1 Stanford are also predicted to receive bids.

Bonvicini said that although Arizona has dropped three of its last four games, its early season successes work in its favor.

"You don't look at the last two weeks," she said. "You look overall. So what's happened in December and January is as important as what happens in February and March."

Saturday, No. 5 seed Arizona fell to No. 4 seed Southern California, 74-66, at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 Tournament.

"You've got to be consistent," Bonvicini said of the loss. "You've got to knock down your free throws, you've got to rebound better. You've got to be smarter when the game's close.

"Any team we play is going to be a good team," she said. "The game is a game of runs. But you have to be strong when they make a run. You've got to be mentally tough."

Hobson admitted that the season failed to meet the team's expectations.

"It's disappointing because every team wants to be champions of their conference and every team wants to do well," she said. "So when you lose and lose like the ways we did in the first round of the Pac-10 to a team we know we shouldn't have lost to, it is disappointing. But through every disappointment, you can learn something."

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