University of Arizona basketball fans have seen this movie before. Their women’s team is off to an 0-7 start in conference, a nightmare of sorts that arrives about this time each year and begins to conjure up painful memories of seasons past.
It’s kinda like the classic 1992 Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, in which Murray finds himself reliving the same day over and over. And hating it more each time the new/old day arrives with his morning alarm clock.
Well, the alarm clock has begun going off again in Tucson.
Each season, women’s head basketball coach Niya Butts tries a little harder to come up with a way to survive in the tough Pac-12 Conference. But nothing seems to change.
Last season the Cats finished with a 1-17 conference record, and the year before that posted just four conference wins and lost 13 of the final 14 games. And here we are again in 2015, looking for that first conference win.
It’s been a slippery slope since the 2010-11 season when Butts won 21 games. That was her third season in charge of the program after being hired away from Kentucky, where she was an assistant coach.
Now she’s in her seventh season at Arizona, but has posted just one winning record during that time. Her teams generally do well in the non-conference games to start the season, but can’t translate that success to conference play. It’s a pattern than has repeated itself with regularity the last three years.
And, unfortunately, this season is turning out to be no exception.
Actually, the team is in position to begin making up for lost ground. Only three of their remaining 11 conference games are against top-5 teams. And that’s what makes today’s game with Oregon so important. It’s a home game against one of the weaker teams in the conference (10th-ranked) and a win would break their seven-game losing streak and maybe restore a little confidence to a team that has been battered pretty badly all month long.
That includes a humiliating 47-point loss to rival Arizona State on Jan. 8, a 30-point loss to Stanford a week later, and Friday’s 18-point thumping by Oregon State.
Candice Warthen enjoyed a career night against Oregon State, scoring 22 points and contributing seven rebounds. But it wasn’t nearly enough to avoid another loss.
Both of those stats are telling in themselves. The redshirt senior was the team leader in rebounds against the Beavers – and she’s a 5-foot, 5-inch guard. And her 22 points are the only time all season any player on the roster has scored that many in one game.
Oregon State lived up to its No. 8/9 national ranking last night, but it took half the game before the Beavers got into an offensive rhythm. They led Arizona at the half by six points, but pulled away in the second half to put up the 73-55 victory.
The Beavers shot a sizzling 52.6 percent from the field, with three players in double figures and 10 players contributing points. And their defense held the Wildcats to 37 percent shooting. Arizona also had no answer for their bigs as the Beavers outscored the Cats 36-22 in the paint.
There’s still more than half the conference schedule left to play. There probably aren’t enough wins buried among those 11 games to save Butts’ job. But a sudden turnaround might be enough to give the program a little momentum for next year.
This was a top-25 recruiting class on the floor this season, which offered fans some optimism.
But with each conference loss, that hope is beginning to fade…again.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)