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On point: Whisonant, Jones to lead Cats' attack

Claire C. Laurence/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Sophomore guard Ashley Whisonant struggles to maintain control over the ball during the Wildcats' matchup against California at the Pac-10 Tournament in San Jose, Calif. in March. Whisonant is expected to be the Wildcats' starting point guard this season, replacing the graduated Dee Dee Wheeler.
By Michael Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 17, 2005
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As departed senior Dee-Dee Wheeler ran her last game as Arizona's point guard last season, there was only one thing her replacement could do this summer to fill the gaping hole. She went to school.

Point-guard school, that is.

With Wheeler gone after rewriting the Arizona record books, it's up to sophomore guard Ashley Whisonant to take the baton on the inbound pass.

"Ashley Whisonant is doing an outstanding job," said Wildcats head coach Joan Bonvicini. "I definitely feel she's ready and able to do an excellent job."

Whisonant spent part of her summer at the Dena Evans Point Guard College as per Bonvicini's recommendation.

Evans, a former Virginia star who was voted the best point guard in the nation her senior year in 1993, teaches a program that focuses on classroom learning sessions, court time designed to reinforce good habits and video analysis, according to the school's Web site.

"It helped me a lot," Whisonant said. "I think I probably wouldn't have done in the game what I do now. We had class three times a day, so I should have learned something in that point-guard college."

Whisonant said the program involved frequently taking notes as she improved her hoops acumen.

"I believe that it helped Ashley quite a bit confidencewise," Bonvicini said. "She's more vocal. She understands a lot more."

Whisonant will be joined in the backcourt by senior and team captain Natalie Jones and fellow sophomore Jessica Arnold, returning starters who can both help Whisonant at the point.

Freshman Malia O'Neal, a two-time Seattle Times State Player of the Year, will also figure in the mix pending her academic eligibility for the fall semester, which had not been decided as of Monday.

In the mix

Jessica Arnold
No. 20 Guard 5-foot-4
2004-05 Stats
(28 games): 8.9 points per game, 2.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 42 percent 3-point shooting

Natalie Jones
No. 23 Guard
2004-05 Stats
(32 games): 9.3 points per game, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 35.9 percent field-goal shooting

Ashley Whisonant (projected starter)
No. 12 Guard
2004-05 Stats
(32 games): 7.0 points per game, 2.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 41.1 percent field-goal shooting

Without Wheeler and would-be senior Shawntinice Polk, who died Sept. 26, the three Wildcat returnees all said they needed to improve their leadership on the floor this year.

"I have to be more vocal, kind of be an extension of Coach B on the court," Jones said. "I'll probably keep doing what I've been doing the past two years, which is leading by example. I've kind of got to throw in the whole vocal part of being a leader."

"I think everyone's going to have the chance to lead by example off the court or be a vocal leader," Arnold said.

Many of these players learned from Wheeler, with whom Jones shared a backcourt with for three years.

"With Dee-Dee, I learned a lot from her," Jones said. "I learned that you have to be the one that leads the team at all costs. If you lose, you've got to put the blame on yourself."

With Wheeler gone, Jones said she's developed a relationship with her new point guard.

Whisonant said the two are very close and have a good relationship on and off the court, as she has learned much from Jones as Jones did from Wheeler.

"She's a great player," Whisonant said of Jones. "I kind of follow her footsteps as far as leadership. I want to kind of mirror her in a way."

Whisonant and Jones are not alone in Arizona's guard-heavy system that includes Arnold, junior transfer Joy Hollingsworth, junior Linda Pace, freshman Kelsey Burns and O'Neal, but lacks any natural centers until freshman Amina Njonkou returns from a stress fracture in her foot. She's slated to return around the start of Pacific 10 Conference play in late December.

In Arizona's exhibition game against Cal Poly Pomona on Nov. 6, the Wildcats started a lineup that featured four guards and a forward, making Jones a power forward by conventional standards.

Because the Wildcats play a fast-paced, pressing style, they will look to the athleticism of Whisonant and Jones to lead the charge.

"Both of them have stepped up their game another level because they're a year older," Bonvicini said. "After Polkey passed away, I think they both realized the team needed them more."

Having lost their leaders and top two scorers in Polkey and Wheeler, Whisonant and Jones will run the show. Without the star power of last year's squad, they will need their teammates to help carry the load, Bonvicini said.

"You can't get one player to take their spot(s)," she said. "It's going to be more a committee thing, but I have a lot of confidence in this team."

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