The three's a charm

Arizona Daily Wildcat

They have this promotion during the UA women's home basketball games where two male cheerleaders each toss a free T-shirt into different sections of McKale Center every time an Arizona player hits a three-pointer.

It isn't a terribly original idea, but it is extremely popular among the fans, and a trey causes the decibel level in the arena to increase dramatically.

The cheerleaders toss out six or eight per game, it depends. Certainly no more than 12. They probably only bring a stack of about 20 which would be trouble if all of the Wildcats, suddenly, during a game, were given Brenda Pantoja's three-point shooting mentality and ability.

In fact, if that were to happen, the cheerleaders would probably have to make a mad dash across Sixth Street to Circle K and pray that Camel was giving away free T-shirts with the purchase of two packs and then buy 50.

OK, it's starting to sound like Pantoja is the most dangerous three-point threat in the world. She's not. And although she does lead her team in three-point field goals and attempts (55-of-158), her shooting percentage from beyond the arc is more than 20 percent lower than that of her roommate, Atina Harris. And compared to male counterpart Damon Stoudamire, well ... let's face it, it's getting tough for Glen Rice to compete with Damon.

But if her mentality came in a bottle, it would have a label with "potentially volatile" imprinted on it.

In a roundabout sort of way, Pantoja is like the Energizer Bunny even if she misses one three, she keeps going for it, and going for it, and going for it. ...

"If I miss two or three or four in a row I don't get frustrated, because when I shoot it and miss, I usually try to correct my form, or something that I didn't do, to make the next one," said Pantoja, who to her credit has had several made-streaks this season, as well. "I don't stop shooting. I might look a little more toward other people, and then let the game come to me more, but I won't stop shooting the ball."

Her teammates rely on her a lot for three-point shooting, and they've had a lot of confidence in her, which has helped her gain a lot of confidence in herself, Pantoja said. When everyone around you has confidence in you, it's really easy to knock down the threes, she said.

UA assistant coach Traci Waites feels, however, that there are imperfections in Pantoja's mentality.

"When she feels that she can make it then she'll keep shooting it," Waites said. "But there will be times when she won't be making it and she just keeps shooting. It doesn't make sense to me to keep shooting threes when you're not making it. I think when that happens, she needs to back off and start distributing the ball. It's kind of hard for her to take criticism at times, but she listens and she tries to take it as best she can."

Although her mentality could be considered controversial, she still has made an average of two three-pointers per game, and has sunk three treys five times, four on two occasions, five once, and six in a game back in November against Florida. On the season, she is averaging 10.2 points, 5.9 assists and three rebounds per game.

She is not one of the team's co-captains, but she does play a substantial role as a leader on the team and is looked up to by the team's seven freshmen.

"We have a lot of different kinds of leaders on our team, and she's definitely one of the leaders because she is the point guard," said freshman forward Mikko Giordano, who met Pantoja while playing basketball during high school back in California. "She tries to be a general out there and not exactly tell everybody what to do, but to help everybody out so our team can win. She's just really a neat person."

Pantoja, who is Puerto Rican, was born and raised in New Jersey, where she went to a school that was about 90 percent Mexican. She started playing basketball in about the fifth grade, due largely to her brother's influence.

There was a pattern of influence, actually. Following the family's move to Bell Gardens, Calif., the two began attending the city's high school and her brother joined his high school baseball team. Soon after, she became interested in baseball. Then, he joined the basketball team; she joined the girls team soon afterward. In the latter, she found success almost immediately.

"I had the basic skills with being a basketball player," Pantoja said. "I already knew certain things, and the game just came to me. It wasn't one of those things where people had to try to teach me how to do things, I just watched and learned. It was really easy for me in the beginning."

Because of her size, she was relegated at first to the shooting guard position, but coaches also quickly realized that she had the ability to see the floor well and was good at distributing the ball. Soon after that discovery, she was converted into a point guard.

Being a point guard didn't mid

bother Pantoja, though, because she liked keeping people involved she liked making great passes and seeing her teammates' reaction when they scored. Little things like that excited her more than any other part of the game.

The excitement is still there today, but it has been tough, as Arizona's young team has stumbled to a 10-17 overall record (5-10 in the Pacific 10 Conference). However, Pantoja has a year of eligibility remaining, and because of her talent and attitude, the possibilities are limitless. Undoubtedly, she will be a captain next season. She has the potential to be an All Pac-10 selection. And with any luck, she will lead the Wildcats to their first-ever NCAA tournament in 1996.

"Do I think about it? Yeah, I think about it, I think about it all the time," Pantoja said. "Every time you take a loss or the year hasn't ended up like you would like it to be, you always think about what you could do different for the next year or what kind of goals or things you can improve on individually and all that stuff. I always think about the following year."

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