By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat
For the Arizona women's basketball team, the time is now.
Women's basketball is becoming more popular than ever, and with 12 players returning from last season's squad, the Wildcats are expected to improve dramatically over the freshmen-led team of a year ago. Senior point guard Brenda Pantoja leads a team that finished last season with an 11-19 overall record and went 6-12 in the Pacific 10 Conference.
"I think this team is confident," Pantoja said. "We all have a year of experience under our belt and we have a lot of intensity right now."
Six freshmen saw time last season for the Wildcats, and their maturity will go a long way in determining the success of this year's team. Marte Alexander, Adia Barnes, Michelle "Mikko" Giordano, Fatima Imara, Keisha Johnson and DeAngela Minter are all returning sophomores.
Arizona head coach Joan Bonvicini said she had plenty of reasons to believe this may be one of her best teams yet.
"Number one, I think we're a lot better team," Bonvicini said. "When you look at the maturity of our players that returned you can only expect to see improvement."
Last season's recruiting class at Arizona had been proclaimed the best in the team's history. Bonvicini said she thinks the year of experience will make this team much tougher to beat.
"Our backcourt is pretty solid, but we do lack a bit of depth at guard," Bonvicini said. "We've got Brenda Pantoja, who played well a year ago. We have DeAngela Minter, who has some nagging hamstring injuries but I think she will be fine.
"Some other key people who played a lot last year are Adia Barnes, who was the Pac-10 freshman of the year last year. I think she will have another good year. I think with both Adia and Mikko we will be able to use them both as a small forward or big guard. We will show a lot more versatility this year."
Arizona will also benefit from the play of three incoming freshmen Ÿ forward Shontey Hambrick, guard Lisa Griffith and guard Monika Crank Ÿ as well as redshirt freshman Amber Phoenix.
"I just want to do whatever I can do to make this team better," Hambrick said. "I'm excited about playing and I think this is a good team. This team is fast, it is quick. I think that is our greatest strength. As long as we try hard we can never go down."
While it is still uncertain who, if anyone, will redshirt, Bonvicini said a new NCAA rule has made this incoming group much more prepared than those in years past. Specifically, the rule permitted coaches to work out players for up to two hours a week before official practice began, provided no more than three players participated.
"Fundamentally, it helped us and gave our players a lot more confidence," she said. "A lot of them were freshmen a year ago who played a lot of minutes. That playing time is really going to be a big factor this year."
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