When you ‘go small’ on the basketball court, you want it to be your decision.
Basketball coaches often decide to switch to a line-up with less size, but more speed. It gives the coach a chance to counter the other team’s speed, or change the rhythm of the game.
That’s what the UofA women’s basketball team has done. But, unfortunately, not by choice.
Before Christmas, the Wildcats boasted the tallest college basketball player in the state in 6’4″ Jennifer Kioa. But that was before grades were finalized for last semester.
Kioa, a junior transfer that Coach Niya Butts picked up from a junior college in California, was playing her way into the line-up, with eight games under belt before she was ruled academically ineligible. Now she’s just a very tall cheerleader at the end of the bench.
There are various reasons you find some really good players at the junior college level. Some players need the JUCO transition to the college game to improve their skills, but more often than not it’s because their grades aren’t up to snuff.
Kioa isn’t expected to be back until the start of next season, her senior year. At first blush, it doesn’t seem to be a big blow; she was a reserve averaging just 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.
But Coach Niya Butts undoubtedly had bigger plans for her. She was the Northern California Player of the Year while playing at Foothill Community College, averaging just over 11 points and seven rebounds per game. And defensively, she was an intimidating factor – not a difficult assignment when you’re 6’4″ – averaging 3.5 blocks a game.
The next player down the Wildcat roster, heightwise, is 6’3″ Amanda Pierson. But she has only been good for 2 points and one rebound a game. Which leaves the backcourt in the capable hands of 6’2″ Ify Ibekwe, who is contributing 13 points and 12 rebounds a night, and 6’1″ Soana Lucet, another JUCO transfer that adds 12 points and seven rebounds a game.
But it just isn’t the same as having that intimidating force roaming around under the basket. And the Wildcats, at 8-7 and trying to get over the hump, need all the help they can get.