Right now Arizona is on a path it certainly doesn’t want to be on.
With a 15-point loss to Cal on Monday, the Wildcats dropped to 4-13 on the season, 0-6 in the Pac-12.
It’s the program’s worst start in 26 years, since the 1987-88 team — led by 27-year-old coach June Olkowski — also started 4-13, and finished 5-23, 2-16 Pac-10.
“We’re feeling as anybody else would be feeling — feeling some frustration,” said coach Niya Butts. “We just gotta figure it out and continue to come to work every day.”
The Wildcats are in Colorado tonight and will take on the Buffs at 7 p.m.
That 5-23 mark in 1988 marked Olkowski’s debut as, at the time, the youngest head coach in NCAA history. Things didn’t get much better, though. Her four-year stretch as coach was one of the worst in UA history, as she went 34-82.
That included her final season, 1990-91, when the Wildcats lost 25 games, which remains an all-time low for the UA. At this rate, in 2014, Arizona would have to lose 12 more times; the Wildcats have 12 regular-season games remaining and at least one Pac-12 tournament game.
Digging into the archives, it was pretty clear that the deterioration of the team ultimately led to Olkowski’s resignation after that 1990-91 season.
For some proof:
- Before the season, Olkowski said: “I know everyone on this team wants to leave a good impression. They want to prove they’re for real. We’re the only team that has never been ranked here. That’s a huge old burden to carry around.”
- Jan. 3, 5-9 record, in the midst of a four-game losing streak: “We’re playing well. The only thing we’re not doing is winning. Somewhere the losses will help us down the line. I hope it’s soon.”
- Feb. 10, 5-19 record, 15-game losing streak: “In spurts we play well in nearly every game. But there hasn’t been a game all season where we have played well for a full 40 minutes. … I’ve learned that most of my players are not mature. I’m not knocking them — maybe I’m just finally understanding them.”
- March 14, 6-25 final record, Olkowski resigns: “I didn’t turn it around as fast as they wanted it turned around. The bottom line is wins and losses.”
In some ways, that mood progression is similar to the path this year’s team has taken — in particular, the propensity and repetitiveness of failure in close games.
Here’s a closer look at the current Wildcats’ progression, from the preseason to the present day.
Date: Oct. 16
The storyline: Wildcats try to replace a star (Davellyn Whyte) with committee of returners — including Candice Warthen, who missed the entire 2012-13 season with a knee injury — and a four-person freshman class.
Quotable: “I’m on fire for the season right now. I can’t wait. I always get anxious. In my mind we have to go over a lot of things, but at the same time I’m ready to get on the floor. … When you lose someone who could score as well as she (Whyte) could score and do some different things, it’s going to be challenging. But we feel pretty good about the cast we have here.” — Butts
Date: Nov. 8-9
The storyline: Wildcats travel to New York, and open the season with losses to both Iona (82-75) and Michigan (73-71) in overtime. A couple of days before the loss to Iona, it’s revealed forward Alli Gloyd, a projected starter, is lost for the season with a knee injury.
Mood: Still positive
Quotable: “We were angry, we were upset, we were hurt. … They cared about the outcome, which means you’re more likely to fix the wrongs when you have that type of response.” — Butts
The bad streak
Date: Dec. 13
The storyline: UA is 1-7, on a five-game losing streak, heading into a three-game homestand.
Mood: Down, not out
Quote: “Obviously when we lose it’s not a good feeling. But, I mean, we have to just keep pushing forward.” — senior forward Erica Barnes
The good streak
Date: Dec. 29
The storyline: The Wildcats win three straight games to end nonconference play 4-7 but lose freshman forward Dejza James for the season to an injury in the process. Down to just eight healthy players.
Mood: On the way up
Quote: “Yeah, we’re feeling pretty good about it. We have a great opportunity to do good things in conference.” — Warthen
The ugly streak
Dates: Jan. 17, Jan. 20
The storyline: With losses to Stanford (96-52) and Cal (79-64), Arizona drops its sixth straight game to open Pac-12 play, and the Wildcats remain winless in 2014.
Mood: Wearing down
Quote: “I didn’t see the same fight I typically see in our team, that was a little disappointing. Actually, a lot disappointing.” — Butts