Yesterday’s 63-52 win against Colorado couldn’t have come at a better time for the University of Arizona women’s basketball team.
The Wildcats needed a game that wasn’t going to provide much of a challenge while they tried to absorb the unexpected loss of one of their key players. Colorado, which is sitting at the bottom of the Pac-12 and win-less in conference play, fit the bill perfectly.
Arizona had lost three straight games and had just been dealt an unexpected blow to their hopes for a turnaround season that is desperately needed.
Taryn Griffey, the redshirt freshman guard from Florida, announced just before yesterday’s game with Colorado that she is taking a leave of absence from the team. The only explanation from the school regarding the move was that it was “for personal reasons” and there is no projected return date.
It took Griffey, whose famous baseball lineage includes grandfather Ken Griffey and father Ken Griffey Jr., three years to get back on the court after missing her junior and senior years in high school and her college freshman year due to knee problems. And now, after playing just 16 games this season, she’s out of the game again.
The 5’7″ point guard, who was ranked No. 45 in the Class of 2014, was averaging 9.2 points and 1.4 assists a game, which puts her among the team’s top four scorers. But she has come up big in some important games. In the season opener on the road against Toledo, Griffey had a game-high 18 points that included six treys to help the Cats squeeze out a three-point win, and then a career scoring night helped salvage a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, during the Christmas holidays.
Arizona lost the first two games they played in the Puerto Rico Classic tournament, but Griffey stepped up in the final game, scoring a career-high 29 points and tying a school record with seven 3-pointers, to lead her team to a 19-point victory.
Her scoring impact hasn’t been as significant in conference play. She started three of the five Pac-12 contests and was averaging just shy of five points a game. But she was averaging 16 minutes a game and her absence at the point leaves the team dangerously thin in the back court.
Here’s why that’s so important. The two wins in six conference games were against the bottom two teams in the Pac-12. The Cats won by 11 points against last-place Colorado and by five against next-to-last California – and they’re running out of weak opponents.
That fact will hit them in the face later this week. The next two games on the schedule are against top-ranked Arizona State.
The Sun Devils are undefeated in Pac-12 play and sitting atop the standings at 6-0 – and are on a 12-game winning streak. And they just buried fourth-place Utah by 20 points. Arizona will play the Sun Devils in Tempe on Friday and then again on Sunday at McKale.
Losses to ASU in both games would put the Wildcats at 2-6 and facing a road trip against the Oregon schools. Oregon State, which is the first game after ASU, is the No. 2 team in the conference, one game behind the Sun Devils.
This all begins to take on a much bigger significance for Arizona’s head coach. Niya Butts is in her eighth year directing the program and final year of her current contract. She’s coming off four straight seasons without a winning record, usually finishing at, or near, the bottom of the conference. Her teams generally do well in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but wilt once they get into Pac-12 play.
Last year, she went into the season with a top-25 recruiting class and big expectations. That 2014-15 squad finished the season 10-20 and was eliminated in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
With the way things are going right now, Taryn Griffey may not be the only one leaving the program.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)