'Roller coaster' continues in Bay Area

By Ryan Casey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 19, 2006

It's not often a team goes through the highs and lows the Arizona women's basketball team has been through this season. And the ride has certainly not leveled out during the past few days.

When the Wildcats (6-11, 2-5 Pacific 10 Conference) face Pac-10 leading Stanford (11-4, 6-1) tonight at 7 in Palo Alto, Calif., it will mark the first game in 2006 in which they bring in momentum, having beaten Oregon 81-72 Saturday to snap a five-game skid.

"It's been hard this year to come off a couple of wins and have a downfall," senior guard Natalie Jones said. "It's kind of like a roller coaster.

"Therefore you can get the surge at a time like this. With this win (against Oregon) it helps our confidence. It boosts it up. It gives us something ... to strive for."

Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini was pleased about the Jan. 14 victory, saying it meant wore than just a notch in the win column.

"For the players and their confidence, it was great just to see them happy and to smile," Bonvicini said. "They can see light now at the end of the tunnel."

Perhaps it's no coincidence that No. 14 Stanford leads the Pac-10. Led by sophomore guard Candice Wiggins, a preseason candidate for both the Wooden Award and the Wade Trophy, the Cardinal's lone blemish in conference play came at the hands of Washington, ranked second in the league.

Bonvicini said Stanford's a smart team with good 3-point shooters, size and athletes, particularly Wiggins.

"It's going to be a good challenge for us," Bonvicini said.

Saturday's win was due in large part to a concerted team effort, something that will likely have to happen again if the Wildcats wish to continue their success through tonight.

Freshman forward Whitney Fields, who was suspended for the Oregon State game last week, responded by becoming one of four players in double figures, totaling 12 points and nine boards.

"I think she grew up and she knew that she had to play hard and play smart," Bonvicini said.

Said Fields: "Just sitting down, watching them play...it was hard, because I knew I could've contributed to that game."

In Saturday's contest Bonvicini used a slightly different starting lineup than she had been using, inserting freshman forward Amina Njonkou into the lineup in just the second game of her career. Njonkou recently recovered from a stress fracture in her foot that kept her sidelined for the first two months of the season.

Also making a return to the Wildcat lineup was freshman guard Malia O'Neal, who made just the third start of her career against the Ducks. Both are expected to start tonight in Palo Alto. The insertion of O'Neal into the starting lineup means the displacement of sophomore guard Ashley Whisonant, who Bonvicini called a "great spark player" coming off the bench.

"I thought she was one of the best defensively," said Bonvicini. "When she came in, right away she started scoring."

Bonvicini said she plans to use a system of setting realistic goals for the team to reach each half, similar to what she used for the Oregon game when the team met 4-of-5 goals heading into halftime.

"I think that (setting the goals) was very important, because it also had our minds set up what we needed to do," Jones said. "That's what helped the team out a lot because we were able to focus on that and focus on us rather than just focusing on Oregon."

Tonight's game against the Cardinal will be the first of two in the Bay Area for the Wildcats as they head to Berkeley to face California on Saturday. While it's a game they say they head into with confidence, they are careful to draw a line in the sand.

"Confident, not cocky," sophomore forward Ché Oh said. "We're definitely going to need that against Stanford."