Like most coaches around the country, Arizona women's basketball coach Niya Butts gave her team a few days off for Christmas.
Following the team's win over Longwood on Dec. 20, Butts' players scattered across the country to get a few days away from their coach and the grind of basketball.
The squad is now all back in Tucson, preparing for the Pac-12 Conference opener Friday at Washington State.
"We all came back from Christmas ready to work," junior forward Alli Gloyd said. "Normally when you come back from Christmas, you're all tired and stuff. But we pushed through it and have had some really good practices."
So good, in fact, Butts called the post-Christmas practices the best following a break she's seen in her five years in Tucson.
While playing well in practice is certainly encouraging for Butts, her obvious hope is that it carries over to conference play.
The Wildcats enter league play with an 8-3 mark. Last season, the UA entered Pac-12 play 10-1 and went 3-14 in conference.
With 2013 not even one day old, the Star talked with Butts about her three wishes for the new year for her team.
Play outstanding defense
What does outstanding defense mean to Butts?
"It means ball pressure, ball denial, helping and taking charges," the coach said.
The Wildcats are holding opponents to 38.5 percent shooting from the field and an impressive 29.1 percent from three-point range.
Butts admires her team's defensive ability and thinks it's a strength of the team.
"We continue to make progress, and we're doing some really good things," Butts said. "We have to turn our defensive success into offensive success, and we have to do it every game. If we do, we'll win some games."
The Wildcats are averaging more than 40 rebounds per game and out-rebound their opponents by three boards a game.
Butts, though, said don't pay too much attention to the numbers.
"What we're doing is, we'll have a great game of rebounding and then we'll have a subpar one," Butts said. "The ability is there. We just have to do it more consistently."
Arizona has five players - Erica Barnes, Cheshi Poston, Kama Griffitts, Davellyn Whyte and Gloyd - who average more than five boards a game and give the Wildcats a presence under the rim.
Make shots - especially easy ones
The Wildcats are shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and have struggled to put the ball in the basket consistently.
Butts' major concern isn't long-range shooting or guarded jump shots. It's the layups and easy shots in the lane.
"We have to finish the chippies in the paint," Butts said. "That's something we have to do."
• What: Arizona at Washington St.
• When: 8 p.m. Friday
• Radio: 1400-AM