It’s deja vu in Tucson…UA women’s hoops 0-11 in Pac-12

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                </div>  It appears that deja vu is beginning to settle in again, covering the University of Arizona women’s basketball program like a mysterious fog that rolls into Tucson every five […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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It appears that deja vu is beginning to settle in again, covering the University of Arizona women’s basketball program like a mysterious fog that rolls into Tucson every five years or so.

Joan Bonvicini, the Wildcats’ former head coach, undoubtedly remembers her experience with it, and now has to be wondering if her successor will weather its effects any better than she did.  Had she been able to hold on a little longer in Tucson, she wouldn’t be in Seattle now.

Not that she necessarily minds being in Seattle, where she has been able to re-start her basketball career after spending 17 years at Arizona.  The hall of fame coach took over at Seattle University in 2009 after being dismissed from the Arizona program and guided the Redhawks in transitioning from Division II to D-I status as a member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC).

Last year, in the program’s first full season with full Division I status, Bonvicini won the conference title and was named the WAC Coach of the Year.  Life is good in Seattle.

She built a national contender at Arizona, posting three consecutive 20-win seasons from 2002 – 2005.  But the train jumped the rails during the 2005-06 season as the Cats won just three conference games that season and followed the next two years with just four wins in each campaign.  Those three years of disappointing results sealed her fate.

Jim Livengood, the athletic director at the time, decided it was time for someone else to step in, take the reins, and return the program to its former lustre.  Bonvicini was let go, despite the fact that a year still remained on her contract.

For awhile, the idea seemed to have some merit.

Niya Butts was hired away from the University of Kentucky, where she was an assistant coach, and given the keys to McKale Center and the Wildcat program.  The program improved, based on season records anyhow, as Butts posted 12 wins in her first season in 2008-09, 14 the next year – which was the best total in five years, and had her most productive season in 2010-11 when the Cats won 21 games.

But now the fog is beginning to creep across the court and has enveloped Butts.  This is her third year of unfulfilled expectations after that 21-win season.  Her teams won three conference games in 2011-12, four last year, and this year will have to put a full-court press on to get to four again.

The Cats are 0-11 in Pac-12 play and have won just four games all season.  They play Arizona State, the No. 2 team in the Pac-12 standings, next and follow that with games on the road against No. 4 California and No. 1 Stanford.  Their final four games on the regular season schedule are against teams ranked in the bottom half of the conference – normally an encouraging forecast.  But they’ve already lost once to each of them, losing by double digits to all but one.

And tomorrow the Cats will play the Sun Devils in a second consecutive game, a sobering thought for a team that is struggling to find its first conference win of the season.  ASU, the No. 11-ranked team in the country, put a 60-36 hurt on the Cats last Tuesday and is expected to leave McKale Center with a road win.

Last year, Arizona won just once in the final 13 games of the regular season.  You don’t need a crystal ball to see how this season is likely to end.  Call it deja vu once again.

Livengood is gone now, replaced a few years back by Greg Byrne.  Byrne has been supportive of his head coach to this point, but it’s questionable that Butts will be given much more consideration than was given Bonvicini.  An AD’s reputation – and his job – rests in large part with the success of his programs and ADs are often judged by the hard decisions that have to be made regarding their coaches.

The saving grace for Butts may be the recent success she has had on the recruiting trail.  Next year’s recruiting class is generally considered to be one of the best in program history, a top-25 class that was ranked third in the Pac-12.

Byrne may decide to give it another year to see what Butts can do with some better talent.  However, it would also be an incentive if you need to bring in a new coach.

But one thing is certain. Next season, there won’t be any excuses for another down year.

If the fog doesn’t lift by that time, someone should tell Byrne about the successful coach in Seattle who might be willing to re-locate to Tucson.

 (Photo: Arizona Athletics)