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Women’s hoops rolls in exhibition opener

Claire C. Laurence/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Sophomore guard Ashley Whisonant fires off a cross-court pass during yesterday’s 93-73 win over Cal Poly Pomona in McKale Center. Whisonant led all scorers with 25 points.
By Michael Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 7, 2005
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Turnovers ignite 18-point blowout of D-II powerhouse

The Arizona women’s basketball team got off to a fast start against Cal Poly Pomona yesterday in McKale Center, rolling to a 93-73 victory in the Wildcats’ first exhibition game this season.

Arizona forced the Division II power into 31 turnovers, racking up 20 steals, while fast-breaking its way to the easy victory.

“I think that’s what defines Arizona women’s basketball,” said senior guard Natalie Jones. “We’ve always been a fast-paced team.”

The Wildcats looked nothing like the team that started Tuesday’s Red-Blue scrimmage with only two points nearly halfway through the first half. Arizona raced out to an 8-0 lead two minutes into yesterday’s game and never trailed.

“It was a lot different,” Jones said. “We actually had our (pre-game) song. We did our normal thing, our routine that we do before the game.

“(The) first scrimmage, was kind of like an emotional thing, and now it’s just like we kind of have that out of our system, and it’s time to get down to business.”

“I think Tuesday was hard for everyone, harder than we had anticipated,” said Wildcats head coach Joan Bonvicini. “They all grew, and now we feel a lot better to put on the uniform and play.”

Freshman center Amina Njonkou, slated to start yesterday, will not be suiting up for a game anytime in the near future. A stress fracture in her foot will keep her out of action for two to four weeks, Bonvicini said, adding that Njonkou may have surgery performed to put a screw in her foot.

Njonkou practiced with the team as late as Friday, but finally told the team trainer her foot had been bothering her. Njonkou had been expected to take the starting center spot formerly occupied by Shawntinice Polk.

“She’s the kind of kid that doesn’t complain,” Bonvicini said. “She’s really disappointed she’s not playing. We were thrown for a loop here pretty quickly, but I can’t tell you how proud I am of the team because they just stepped up to the plate, no complaints, and just played.”

In Njonkou’s absence, the undersized Wildcats started four guards and a forward and extensively used their bench.

Nine players played double-digit minutes, while five scored in double figures, led by sophomore guard Ashley Whisonant’s 25 points.

“I think we’re pretty deep this year,” said sophomore forward Ché Oh. “It shows pretty much from the stats, but beyond that, the aggressiveness, we can go nine, 10 deep. Our whole bench got off and was productive.”

Junior guard Linda Pace came off the bench to score 13 points and grab six rebounds, both career highs, while playing in the frontcourt.

Freshman forward Whitney Fields, who will be counted on to step up in Njonkou’s absence, scored 12 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting.

Forward Ally Smith led the Broncos with 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting.

The Wildcats could add more depth to their bench, pending the appeal of freshman guard Malia O’Neal, who is ineligible for the fall semester eligibility because of entrance requirement deficiencies. Her case should be decided this week, Bonvicini said.

O’Neal cannot practice or play with the team until the results of the appeal are known, so she watched yesterday’s game from the front row just behind the basket near Arizona’s bench.

On the court the Arizona defense, led by junior guard Joy Hollingsworth’s six steals, keyed numerous fast-break opportunities. The Wildcats often found a streaking teammate down the court for an easy layup in transition.

“I felt like T.O. (Terrell Owens) for a minute, without the whole attitude and the swagger to it,” Jones said.

The easy buckets helped the Wildcats shoot a scorching 56.5 percent from the field.

Whisonant said she loves playing fast-paced games.

“We were just hyped,” Whisonant said. “It was the first time we played an actual real team, so we were just ready to come out and play.”

After a sluggish first outing, the Wildcats looked much better on both sides of the ball in routing the Broncos.

“When we’re all working as a unit, when everyone’s on the same page, we’re great,” Jones said. “I just felt like everyone was on the same page today, and our defense was 10 times better than what it was last Tuesday.”

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