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Women's Hoops: Freshman ignites fire under Cats

CLAIRE C. LAURENCE/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Freshman guard Ashley Whisonant has proven herself to be a true "spark" for the Wildcats after posting a career-high 17 points in last week's win over No. 19 UCLA.
By Lindsey Frazier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 20, 2005
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Whisonant gives Wildcats quick spark off bench

Ask anyone affiliated with Arizona women's basketball to describe the role of freshman guard Ashley Whisonant and you'll hear the same response.

"My coach basically tells me that I'm a spark off the bench," said Whisonant, a native of Bowie, Md. "I bring in energy and defensive presence."

Whisonant enforced that point in Arizona's 84-73 upset over then-No. 19 UCLA Sunday, when the freshman contributed a career-high 17 points and one blocked shot in 22 minutes off the bench.

"People say she is the spark player and I really do believe that," said junior guard Natalie Jones. "She's very quiet but then again she brings so much intensity to the game. When she scores, she really doesn't have to jump up and down. You can see in her eye, she's so determined to get the job done."

"She's a bit of an icebreaker sometimes and always gives us a laugh," agreed senior guard Katrina Lindner. "She is just really a sparkplug for us coming off the bench at times. You can see there are times when she really gets in the offense's way and she's like a little gnat. Just on the offensive end, she's a great penetrator and gives out some good assists."

While Whisonant is potent off the bench, she prefers to leave the starting responsibilities to her teammates.

"We realized when we started her against Stanford, she's not ready to start and she doesn't like that pressure," said UA head coach Joan Bonvicini of Whisonant's performance in the 78-66 loss to the Cardinal, when the guard failed to get on the board and committed three turnovers. "She said to me, 'Coach, you can play me as long as you want but just don't start me.' She's a kid and you listen."

At the midway point of the Pacific 10 Conference season, Whisonant has proved her worth, playing in 17 games, starting two and nailing 61 percent of her shots from the free-throw line. The guard has also swiped 25 steals, second on the team behind senior point guard Dee-Dee Wheeler.

"I was thinking that I wasn't going to play much as a freshman," Whisonant said of her expectation for playing time coming into this year. "A typical freshman doesn't play that much. And plus this is a good team, where I didn't expect to play, if at all, not that much."

Whisonant said she credits her early collegiate success to her high school basketball program at St. John's College High School, where she was named a team captain her senior year. She led St. John's last year to defeat the nation's No. 1 high school team, McNamara, and win the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Championship.

Despite Whisonant's achievements in high school, Bonvicini said she is most impressed by the freshman's quick development in the UA program.

"Ashley has definitely improved throughout the course of the season," she said. "When I recruited her, I saw someone who was a great ball handler, an excellent passer and someone who had a really good feel for the game."

"But I think her game has developed since she's been here," Bonvicini continued. "She has improved her 3-point shooting, she's really an outstanding defender and really one of our best. And to say that (for her, being) a freshman, I think is a great compliment for her."

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