It was fitting that Ify Ibekwe’s name was added to the Arizona Ring of Honor this season. The former All-American knows something about bringing hope back to the Arizona women’s program, after all.
It took a while for the current Wildcats (4-1) to follow Ibekwe’s example on the court, though. Ibekwe’s name sits atop the Arizona record for career rebounds. The current squad struggled to get boards against their much smaller opponent for the entire first half.
It was the one of the only things they struggled with in a 73-32 win over South Carolina State (2-4).
Despite the opponent starting only one player over six-feet tall, the Wildcats had 22 rebounds in the first half to the Lady Bulldogs’ 20. On the offensive end of the court, the four-guard lineup for SCSU outrebounded Arizona, 8-7.
“It was something that we talked about at half-time,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “It was one of our adjustments. They had five offensive rebounds and six defensive (in the first quarter), and we needed to make sure we get set and box out. So, that was a focus.
“I thought that in the zone we struggled against that in the second half, especially down the stretch in the fourth quarter. But I thought we did a better job of being more aggressive. Dominique (McBryde) and Cate (Reese) came out—I challenged them a little at half-time—and they came out with more fire. They came out stronger, and Semaj (Smith) also, and came out rebounding better.”
Those inside players did rise to the challenge. By the end of the game, they had increased their rebounding margin to 54-32, outrebounding SCSU by 5 on the offensive end and 17 on the defensive end.
Scoring was more balanced than it has been in recent games. While Aari McDonald scored in double digits again, she wasn’t the team’s leading scorer. Reese took that honor, putting up 19 points to go with 16 rebounds. The freshman also got it done on the defensive end, getting two steals and two blocks.
McBryde was the third wheel, getting her first double-digit game of the season with 10 points. She also had an assist and a block on the night. Perhaps because she didn’t suffer from early foul trouble for the first time this season, she was able to get a better rhythm on the court.
“I don’t know if my luck just turned in the first half,” McBryde said. “But, I think like Cate said, just really emphasizing not giving them anything, but also not bailing them out at the same time. Sometimes calls are not going go our way. It’s just how we bounce back and handle it afterward.”
Instead of McBryde, it was McDonald suffering from the early foul trouble against the Lady Bulldogs. The starting point guard was forced to the bench with 2:14 to go in the first quarter after picking up her second foul.
Freshman Bryce Nixon came in and immediately had an impact. Sam Thomas picked off the pass from SCSU’s Rhein Beamon and got the ball to Nixon. The ball went up and in from the beyond the arc to put Arizona ahead by a score of 17-6. It was one of three steals Thomas had on the night, and one of three three-pointers from Nixon.
“Bryce is awesome,” Barnes said. “Bryce is fearless. She doesn’t hesitate, and that’s what I love. I love the fact that our freshman—Semaj, and tonight you saw Bryce, you saw Cate—they came out, they don’t have any hesitation. And I think that’s what makes Bryce special. She’s not afraid to shoot.”
Smith was also not afraid. She ended the night with eight points on 4-5 shooting to go along with six rebounds and three blocks in just over 18 minutes.
In the end, it was just too much for the Lady Bulldogs. Their best quarter was the third, when they scored 12 points. That still left them in a 52-29 hole.
South Carolina State hit that 29-point mark with 1:17 left to go in the third quarter. As Arizona pulled further away, the Lady Bulldogs struggled mightily. They would not add another point until Jael Jackson was fouled on a three-point shot with 57 seconds left in the game.
Even that looked like it might not happen, as Jackson missed the first two free-throws before sinking one for her team’s 30th point. When the horn sounded, the 32 points in the Visitors column tied for the fewest points allowed by the Wildcats in school history.
Arizona now prepares to face Incarnate Word on Tuesday at McKale Center before going on the road to visit San Diego State.
Ify Ibekwe added to Ring of Honor
The Wildcats honored Ify Ibekwe, their former star forward (2007-11), at halftime by adding her name to the Ring of Honor. Ibekwe was the last Wildcat to earn AP All-American honors, getting tapped for Honorable Mention in both the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons. After a record-setting career in college, she was drafted by the WNBA’s Seattle Storm in 2011.
Ibekwe was honored by the Pac-10 all four seasons at Arizona. In 2007-08, she was voted onto the All-Freshman team, becoming the first player to do so since Shawntinice Polk. Her other three seasons, she was First Team All-Pac-10. She was also named to the Pac-10 All-Defensive Team her sophomore, junior and senior seasons, while taking Defensive Player of the Year honors in her final two seasons at Arizona.
Her Arizona records:
- Most career rebounds (1,194) and rebounds in a single season (352 in 2010). She also has the third- and fifth-best single-season rebound records (336 in 2009 and 314 in 2011).
- Most rebounds per game in a single season (11.6 in 2009) and over a career (10.3).
- Most rebounds in a single game (22 vs ASU on Feb. 13, 2011).
- First in career double-doubles (55).
- Fourth all-time leading scorer (1,653 points).
- Fifth in career steals (228).
- Second in career blocks (166).
Arizona coach Adia Barnes believes her players have a lot to learn from the career Ibekwe has had, both at Arizona and as a professional.
“She’s had such a great career and she’s such a great player,” Barnes said. “I want her to hit the message home (to the team) that, ‘You need to work hard.’ Because I think that when you’re in college, you think you work hard. Well, in high school you think you work hard, then you realize in college you haven’t really worked hard. In college you think you worked hard, then you get to the pros and you’re like, ‘Wow! I didn’t work hard at all.’ And then you realize a couple of years into your pro career, ‘Wow, if I’d worked a lot harder a couple of years ago, I’d be a lot better.’ So, hindsight’s always 20-20.
“I wanted her to tell them, ‘Go for your goals. This is what I would do differently.’ She’s played all over the world, from Belgium to Turkey to South Korea, and she’s still playing now. I think she’s eight years into her pro career.
“If you have aspirations to do it, you go after it. You set your goals, you work on yourself now. That’s kind of the message that Kelsey Plum has sent to them, too.”