Since LaBrittney Jones practiced for the first at Richard Jefferson Gymnasium in the summer, it’s been strapped to her knee.
It weighs her down; it limits her movement.
But she tore her ACL and missed her senior season of high school, and she is still not 100 percent, so she has needed it.
Jones wore it for Arizona’s first nine games, and the Wildcats lost seven, were out-rebounded in six.
Sunday, she took it off. And Arizona won.
So, blame it on the knee brace?
Not quite, but Jones grabbed 15 rebounds against Texas Tech, and the Wildcats had 53 as a team and won for the first time in 29 days.
“In your brace, you don’t have a lot of lateral turn,” Jones said, “so getting out of it, I was able to move more freely.”
Even with the brace, Jones led the Wildcats in rebounding five times in eight games.
“It gave her a little bit more freedom to move and get some plays,” UA coach Niya Butts said, “but also it’s mental. As a player, you have this contraption on your knee, and you want to get out of it but don’t feel like you can, so sometimes you make it a bigger issue than it may be.
“But for us, I’m just glad she’s continued to play well.”
Maybe now the Wildcats can take off their figurative knee brace and move forward, freely.
After a 1-7 start, Arizona beat Texas Tech by nine and has two more games before Pac-12 play begins against Washington on Jan. 3. The Wildcats will face UC-Riverside at 6 tonight at McKale Center.
If Jones, a freshman, can keep her rebounding pace up, she’d find herself in good UA company to kick off her career — in the last 20 years, only three freshmen have led the Wildcats in rebounding. And those three — Ify Ibekwe (8.0 in 2008), Shawtinice Polk (10.8 in 2003) and Adia Barnes (7.8 in 1995) — are easily among the top 10 players in program history.
Jones, at seven rebounds per game, tops the Wildcats and is third among all freshmen in the Pac-12.
“To me, rebounding just comes natural,” Jones said, “I just have a knack for the ball, so it’s just kind of easy for me.”
Jones is 6 feet 1 inch tall. Once Pac-12 play begins, she’ll be shorter than most of the conference’s best rebounders.
Oregon’s Jillian Alleyne and Cal’s Courtney Range are 6-3; Utah’s Michelle Plouffe and Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike are 6-4.
If all had gone right, the Wildcats wouldn’t be relying on two relatively undersized freshmen — Jones and 6-1 forward Breanna Workman are Arizona’s leading rebounders — to lead the team on the glass.
Three years ago, Butts secured the biggest — literally and figuratively — recruit of her tenure in 6-5 Aley Rohde. As a freshman two years ago, Rohde started every game, grabbed 6.0 rebounds per game and led the Wildcats in blocks.
After the season, she transferred to UNLV, where she’s getting seven boards per game for the Rebels as a redshirt sophomore.
Then, Butts was supposed to have Ali Gloyd this season, a 6-1 senior forward who grabbed 6.0 rebounds per game last season. But, she tore her ACL in the preseason and is lost for the year.
So now it’s Jones, and it’s Workman, who had 11 rebounds against Texas Tech.
“From a size perspective, I know people look across the board, and we don’t look very big,” said Butts. “But overall the matchups are pretty solid. What we don’t match up well with is experience and having the depth in some positions with injuries.
“Our freshmen our growing fast. We’re telling them it’s the cutoff time, your freshmen season is over. Past that midpoint, you’re sophomores right now.”
Here’s a closer look at two of those freshmen — Jones and Workman, who have started every game — and their knack for rebounding the ball.
- Season stats:
- 5.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.22 blocks, 81.3 free-throw percentage
- Best game:
- 12 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks and one steal in
a 65-57 victory over Texas Tech on Dec. 15
- She said it:
- “She’s a natural rebounder, just around the ball. There are certain players that are just at the ball and around the ball; some players have to work hard at it. LaBrittney has a nose for the ball, but she also works hard.” — Butts.
- Season stats:
- 6.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, team-high 19 total offensive rebounds
- Best game:
- 12 points, eight rebounds, one assist in a 75-6
- loss to Pacific on Nov. 23
- She said it:
- “Rebounding to me is just something I take personally. Rebounding is hunger, and it’s heart, whoever wants the ball more. If we get rebounds we get the ball more, and that leads to more points.” — Workman