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UA women's basketball: Cats need 'feats of strength' for Pac-12

UA women's basketball: Cats need 'feats of strength' for Pac-12

Monday, the Wildcats went home for the holidays.

Candice Warthen flew to Georgia, Kama Griffitts to Idaho, Carissa Crutchfield to Oklahoma.

Four went to California, two to Texas and one to Las Vegas.

Niya Butts, though, is staying grounded in the Old Pueblo, at least as of Monday.

“We’ll see if I change my mind,” the UA women’s basketball coach said. “I don’t have any plans, I’m pretty boring on Christmas.”

She doesn’t really have any family Christmas traditions, the coach said.

But Christmas isn’t the only holiday this time of the year, obviously, with Hanukkah already passing and Kwanza starting Thursday.

Plus, of course, there’s Festivus — the “holiday” for the rest of us, introduced in a classic, Season 9 episode of “Seinfeld,” celebrated by the Costanzas.

What starts with an aluminum pole, includes an “airing of the grievances” — each person lashes out at others about how they have been disappointed in the last year — and “feats of strength,” where the head of the household challenges someone to wrestle.

In honor of the holidays, we’ve decided to put our own twist on “Festivus,” with a focus on the Wildcats and their season thus far. Just replace the pole with a 10-foot basketball hoop (with “a great strength-to-weight ratio.”)

Airing of the grievances

What’s been disappointing, or overlooked, for the Wildcats this season.

Bad start: For the first time in Butts’ six years at the helm, Arizona won’t have a winning record through non-conference play. Before 2013, she’d won about 75 percent of non-conference games. Entering Sunday’s non-conference finale with Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the Wildcats are 3-7, which included a recent five-game skid.

But, really, is it that bad?: 3-7 isn’t ideal, sure. But there have been some signs of life. For one, this is probably Butts’ most inexperienced team of her tenure, as four freshmen get significant playing time. The Wildcats are on a two-game winning streak, and lost only two games by 10 or more points. In fact, in all seven losses, the games were within six points — in either direction — with less than five minutes to go.

“There’s a whole lot of season left,” Butts said. “We’ve always known that, we’ve been preaching that. It’s about doing our very best to finish as strong as possible. And I think our team is on the right track.”

Missing at the rim: Less words, more numbers. In its last three games, UA had:

  • 18 missed layups in a win against UC-Riverside;
  • 15 missed layups in a win against Texas Tech;
  • 11 missed layups in a loss to UAB.

“As a coach you try to do the best you can and put them in situations where getting easy shots and shots inside the paint, shots at the rim,” Butts said. “They’ve been in position for that. There’s nothing I can do except work on it with them in practice and get them to focus and really concentrate on making those shots.”

Good defense, bad offense: Butts preaches about her pride for defense and rebounding. Recently, both areas have been top-notch. In the two wins, Arizona out-rebounded its opponents by 15. In the Cats’ last four games, they’ve held teams to 60.5 points per contest. For their offense so far, though, the Wildcats get a lump of coal. They’ve broken 70 points just three times, are 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring and are 255th (out of 332) in the nation.

On the bright side, UA is third in the conference in three-point percentage, albeit on a conference-low 117 attempts (or 11.7 per game).

“It’s always good when you shoot the ball well,” Butts said, “but shooting tends to come and go. We want to hang our hats on our defense.”

Feats of strength

They (probably) won’t wrestle, but it will certainly take a feat of strength for the Cats to be competitive in a tough Pac-12 conference

The Wildcats will duke it out on Sunday afternoon at McKale Center against Arkansas Pine-Bluff before the always-daunting Pac-12 slate begins Jan. 3 at Washington.

For a team such as UA, at the bottom of the conference barrel with a 3-7 record, Pac-12 play represents a brand-new season.

Even with that, though, the Wildcats are only one loss worse than UCLA and Washington State, two worse than USC and three worse than UW and Utah. The middle of the Pac is certainly within reach.

But ASU (the Newman to UA’s Jerry Seinfeld) is pretty well ahead of Arizona. The Sun Devils, who come to McKale on Feb. 9, are 10-1 and tied with No. 4-ranked Stanford for the best mark in the conference.

“You know, I’m confident we can compete with anybody in the conference,” Butts said.

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