By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, November 12, 2004
Ready to repeat last season's Pac-10 Championship season and excited to avenge an early exit in last season's NCAA tournament, the UA women's basketball team opens its season tonight at 7 p.m. in McKale Center when it takes on Saint Mary's in the first round of the preseason Women's National Invitational Tournament.
The Wildcats enter regular season play fresh off a pair of exhibition blowout victories, 80-54 over Play Mode Sports on Nov. 2 and 77-45 over Baden Sports Monday night.
"It's not the point spread," UA head coach Joan Bonvicini said of the team's 32-point win Monday. "I think we can play a lot better."
The No. 24 Wildcats will need to be on their A-game if they plan to make a run for the WNIT championship. Arizona is one of four ranked teams seeing action in the early-season tournament, while nine of the 16 participants saw postseason action in the Spring.
"If we practice hard, the games should be easy," said UA senior point guard Dee-Dee Wheeler, named this week as one of 50 candidates for the Naismith Award list, given to the nation's player of the year at season's end.
UA junior center Shawntinice Polk, an all-Pacific 10 Conference selection in both of her first two seasons with the Wildcats, was also named to the Naismith watch list.
"We've put in a lot of new stuff," Polk said of the team's strategy this season. "We're going to just keep adding and improving."
Wheeler, who scored 11 points Monday, and Polk, who added a team-high 13 points and 11 rebounds of her own, are also two of five players named to the Pac-10's preseason all-conference team
The tandem also earned a place among the 31 preseason candidates for Wade Trophy, given to the nation's top Division 1 player. Arizona was one of seven schools with two or more players on the early list.
The duo returns alongside a strong supporting cast, led by junior guard Natalie Jones and sophomore forward Shannon Hobson - both projected starters for the Wildcats this season - as well as a strong incoming corps of players.
UA freshmen guards Jessica Arnold and Ashley Whisonant combined for 23 points in the Wildcats' victory over Baden Sports. Arnold is expected to get the start tonight against Saint Mary's.
"The freshmen are fitting in," said UA head coach Joan Bonvicini, entering her 14th season at the helm of the Wildcats. "They're learning the program really well. If they have questions, they ask them."
The 5-foot-4 Arnold is a Tucson native from Palo Verde High School, while the 5-foot-8 Whisonant hails from Saint John's College High School in Bowie, MD.
If the Wildcats win tonight, they would hit the court again Sunday against either Rice or McNeese State..