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Arizona women looking to continue momentum in NIT

Coach Niya Butts has Arizona in the postseason in her third year as head coach.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The Arizona women’s basketball team is back in postseason for the first time since 2005. It’s not the NCAA Tournament, but the Wildcats landed in the NIT after a strong finish to the season.

Coach Niya Butts, in her third season, has directed the Wildcats to a 21-11 overall record, 10-8 in the Pac-10. Arizona won twice at the Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles last week before running into powerhouse Stanford in the semifinals.

After beating USC in the quarterfinals, Butts said in the postgame press conference, “We are an NCAA Tournament team.”

Well, close. With an RPI rating of 65, Arizona didn’t quite have enough of a case. The curious part, as Butts pointed out in a press conference Tuesday, is the comparison to Arizona State.

ASU is 20-10, finished one game better than Arizona in the Pac-10 standings but lost in the Pac-10 tournament one round earlier. The teams split two games, each winning on its home court.

The Sun Devils, who did have a more difficult non-conference schedule, are seeded seventh in the NCAA Tournament.

“I certainly think our record is comparable to ASU, which got in as a seventh seed,” Butts said Tuesday. “If they’re a seventh seed, and you’re telling me we don’t belong in the field of 64, I certainly take issue with that.”

Instead, the Wildcats will head to Logan, Utah, to take on Utah State (17-14) on Thursday in the first round of the NIT. The game begins at 4:30 p.m. Tucson time and can be heard on 1400-AM KTUC.

Senior forward Ify Ibekwe, who averages 16.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, leads the Wildcats. Senior forward Soana Lucet earned Pac-10 all-tournament honors; she averages 12.2 points and 5.3 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Davellyn Whyte is second on the team in scoring at 15.6 points per game. Junior guard Shanita Arnold doles out 4.9 assists per game.

The Wildcats have won eight of their past 10 games.

“We still have a chance to play until April,” Lucet said. “So, we’re going to take it.”

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