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Bofia’s dunking a small part of talent of UA women’s club

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SIMPSON COLUMN

Corky Simpson

It’s not something Joan Bonvicini is working into the offense, at least not yet.

But on the horizon for the Arizona women’s basketball team is a shot that will no doubt thrill the fans at McKale Center.

The Cats have found someone who can dunk.

Beatrice Bofia, a 6-foot-7 center from the African nation of Cameroon, is capable of that crowd pleaser so common in the men’s game but so rare in women’s basketball.

Bofia scored four points off the bench in a 78-71 win over Portland in UA’s home opener Friday night at McKale Center. Freshman forward Ify Ibekwe led the Cats with 21 points and 13 rebounds.

Bofia, a junior, sat out last season while recuperating from a knee injury. That put her twin sister, Suzy, a year ahead in eligibility, but Suzy, who is pregnant, is sitting out this season

“Beatrice is the first to dunk for us,” Bonvicini said. “She hasn’t done it in a game yet, but she was dunking all the time in practice last year – then blew a knee out.

“She’s getting back (to form), but the dunk. . . well, it’s not something we’re working on.”

Just the same, it’s still news when a woman player stuffs one through the nets.

“Well, yeah, although it’s pretty routine in the men’s game,” Bonvicini said. “If you ask me, though, the thing that has helped both games is the 3-point shot.”

The Bofia girls are part of the Cats’ Cameroon connection. They are from the city of Yaounde, founded in 1888 by German businessmen as a center for the ivory trade and farming research.

The other Cameroon player is Amino Njonkou from the city of Foumban, home of the republic’s royal palace housing the belongings of 18 dynasties.

Bonvicini is in her 17th season at Arizona, where her record is 278-205. In a career that began in 1979-80 at Long Beach State, her overall record is 603-276.

This season, with about half of its roster underclassmen, the Wildcats are talented but fairly inexperienced. Just the same, Bonvicini said, “I’ll take talent over experience any day.”

Leadership this season starts with Ashley Whisonant, a 5-8 senior guard from Bowie, Md. She led the Cats in scoring at 20.7 points per game .

“Ashley’s not as vocal as I’d like, but she has leadership skills and she is in position to have an outstanding season,” the coach said.

Njonkou, a 6-1 junior, and Rheya Neabors, a 6-2 sophomore from Pomona, Calif., have been the most consistent rebounders so far.

The most promising newcomer is Tasha Dickey, 5-10 guard, daughter of former UA basketball player (1983-85) Lisa Dickey and former UA football player and assistant coach Charlie Dickey (1983-84). He is the offensive line coach at Utah.

Tasha Dickey attended Mountain View High here one year before the family moved away. “It has always been my dream to be a Wildcat,” she said.

She was chosen 2007 Utah player of the year at Brighton High in the town of Sandy. She promises to be a very special athlete at UA.

“A lot of it is genes,” Bonvicini said of her prize freshman. “But Tasha was brought up extremely well. She’s very coachable. You get a kid like her and it’s amazing what they pick up, quickly.”

When senior Jessica Arnold from Palo Verde High suffered a concussion a week or so ago, Dickey was inserted into the lineup as a starter and averaged 10.3 points on 50 percent shooting, 2.3 steals and 24.3 minutes per game.

The other Wildcat freshmen are Faihza Hill, a 5-5 guard from San Francisco and Ibekwe, a 6-1 forward from Carson, Calif.

One major change in women’s basketball over the years has a lot to do with federal law. Since 1972 when Title IX was enacted to create gender equity in sports, the women’s game has dramatically improved because “we’re recruiting better players,” Bonvicini said.

There are still plenty of challenges to keep a coach busy. Freshmen still need to learn to play defense, for the most part, and they require more discipline than in high school. “But it’s still fun,” Bonvicini said. “It’s more fun when you know you’re good. But one thing never changes – it’s always exciting.”

Especially if there’s a dunker on the squad.

Corky Simpson writes a weekly column for the Citizen.

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