For the last two years, Candice Warthen has played supportive fan and spectator a whole lot more than ball-handler and shooting guard.
She probably hasn’t been 100 percent since at least Dec. 3, 2011.
The Wildcats were in Laie, Hawaii, for the Hukilau tournament, and beat BYU-Hawaii in the final game. Warthen scored 22 points in the win, adding five rebounds and six steals.
Arizona was 7-1, and Warthen was challenging Davellyn Whyte to be the Wildcats’ leading scorer.
Warthen, a 5-foot-5-inch redshirt junior guard from Warrenton, Ga., scored 36 points in one game and double digits in six more during that eight-game stretch.
Then she hurt her foot, and missed nine games.
Since, the Wildcats have posted just 19 wins in 52 games. Warthen has played in only 15 of them.
She missed all of last season with an ACL injury.
But now, she’s back. The Wildcats are in New York for the Iona Tip-off Tournament and will face Iona in New Rochelle at 4:30 p.m.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve played against real competition,” Warthen said. “It’s exciting, and I’m just really ready to show everybody what I can do.”
A lot has changed since Warthen last played in a season-ending Pac-12 tournament loss to ASU in 2012.
Whyte is gone, drafted by the WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars.
Erica Barnes, a senior forward, is the only other player left on the roster from 2011-12. Warthen now has seven new teammates, two new coaches and, for once, her health.
“It was tough,” head coach Niya Butts said. “She’s a worker, she’s a grinder. Anytime you have to sit out basically a year and a half and watch the games go by, knowing you can do something to help and not be in a position to do that. But now, I think it’s going to make it all the more special for her.”
Warthen adds a scoring punch, a defensive threat and a ball-handler that the Wildcats certainly missed last season, when they went 12-18 and finished 10th in the Pac-12, all as Warthen sat idly on the bench.
“It takes a lot of pressure off everybody, especially on the defensive end,” Butts said of getting Warthen back. “She was the catalyst for us defensively and she’ll take on that role again. She’s getting her feel back, slowly but surely.”
Saturday, she played in her first live-game action — albeit in an exhibition against Fort Lewis College — in 604 days, but it didn’t seem like it. Warthen scored 23 points on 8 of 15 shooting, with two assists and five steals.
“You see her speed,” Barnes said, “she’s such an impact to this team, and we really missed her last year. It’s just so fun. She just controls the game.”
Barnes (concussion) did not travel with the team to New York. She did not play in the Wildcats exhibition matchup with Fort Lewis.