Time is now for women's team

By Craig Sanders

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona women's basketball head coach Joan Bonvicini walked up and down the court in practice, her arms folded and her brow furrowed.

"Let's go, box out on the rebound!" she yelled. "No, no, give me the ball. You do it like this."

Bonvicini took the ball from a guard and demonstrated the passing technique, the instant ball reversal she wanted to see.

"This is how you do it," she said. "Now come on, let's go."

Bonvicini is the consummate teacher, and even on a frustrating day of practice, she came away knowing her team was working toward her goal.

"When I first came here I wanted to change the attitude and the expectations of this program," Bonvicini said. "I think I've done that this season. This team possesses the confidence they need to win. I think we have the opportunity to become winners and we need to seize that opportunity."

In her four years at Arizona, Bonvicini's teams have amassed a 48-64 record. In the same time, women's basketball has undergone dramatic changes. It is more popular than ever with teams such as Connecticut and Tennessee garnering the national spotlight. Bonvicini said that even at the base level, players are becoming more talented. She said she knows college basketball is undergoing its biggest boom ever, and she is far from content to allow her team to miss the trend.

"I thought the rebuilding process would be a lot quicker, but I think this team has a lot of potential," Bonvicini said. "We need to make sure we work hard and continue to improve."

Bonvicini's teams have had potential for years, but have never finished above seventh in the Pacific 10 Conference. Arizona has had its share of good players in Kim Conway, Margo Clark and Janelle Thompson, yet the team has never had the overall talent or depth of this year's Wildcats.

"This is a team in which anyone can contribute," Bonvicini said. "They work hard every day in practice and have the attitude necessary to be successful. The team chemistry is so good right now."

Arizona's team this season may best be described as having experienced youth. With four sophomores returning, including Pac-10 freshman of the year Adia Barnes and Pac-10 freshman honorable mentions Mikko Giordano and DeAngela Minter, the Wildcats are looking to rebound from last season's 11-19 record.

Brenda Pantoja, one of the Wildcats' two seniors, is careful in her expectations for this season's team.

"My goal for the team this season is to finish in the upper half of the division and make the the NCAA Tournament," Pantoja said. "But my main focus is on every game we play. I've had such high expectations for so many years, and they've never come true. I don't want to set myself up to be let down again."

The Wildcats will also be returning senior Andrea Constand at forward, junior Jacqueline Clark at center, sophomore Fatima Imara at forward and sophomore Marte Alexander at center. With the mix of experienced talent and youth, the Wildcats are primed to make their first legitimate run at the upper half of the Pac-10 since Bonvicini took over the team in 1991.

"This team is greatly improved over last season," Barnes said. "I think we are a lot more confident and the team chemistry is much better. We still have so much to work on and improve on, but we have the talent to take us to the Tournament."

Making it to the Tournament has been Bonvicini's goal since coming to Arizona, but with Pac-10 powerhouses Stanford, Southern Cal and Oregon State, the deed is easier said than done.

Bonvicini said this season's team will be much more prepared for the matchups this season because it has been practicing against men every day.

"The men have helped this team tremendously," Pantoja said. "They are much quicker and stronger than women are. I think that playing them has allowed the team to improve in ways it wouldn't have by practicing against ourselves."

Much of the Wildcats' depth will be in freshman guard Monika Crank and freshman forward Shontey Hambrick. Both have already seen considerable playing time in the Wildcats' two preseason victories over the Mexico National Team and the Portland Saints and both are being asked to contribute heavily this season.

"The freshmen are both very mature and work hard," Bonvicini said. "They can both make an impact this season."

Said Crank, "I just want to do whatever I can to help this team improve. I think we will just keep getting better as the season goes on."

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