Niya Butts is quick to shake a hand, to start a conversation.
Arizona’s head coach is enthusiastic, and energetic.
But on Tuesday, she felt a bit under the weather.
Instead of a handshake, it was a fist bump.
Her foot hurts, too.
“In all of these games,” she said, “we are shooting ourselves in the foot.”
The Wildcats are 1-6 — their worst start in 33 years — but the games have been close.
In five of the six losses, the Wildcats have led by at least five points at some point.
In three of them, Arizona led by 10, 16 and 13, only to lose by 7, 4 and 9.
“We’ve played some pretty good teams,” Butts said. “But I feel like we lost the games instead of being just beaten by the other team.”
Here’s a closer look at a few of those games:
- Iona (Nov. 8): The Wildcats took a 58-48 lead with 7:37 left. Then, Iona went on a 13-4 run, Arizona missed 7 of 9 shots and tied the game on a three-pointer with eight seconds left. In overtime, Arizona missed 6 of 9 shots and lost 82-75.
- Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 20): Arizona had a 35-24 halftime lead, extended it to 40-24 with 19 minutes left and still led 50-39 with 6:54 to go. Then, Arizona missed its last nine shots, had three turnovers, had seven fouls and was outscored 21-6 in a 60-56 loss.
- Pacific (Nov. 23): Thirteen minutes in, the Wildcats led by 13. By halftime, it was tied at 29. With 8:23 left, the Wildcats took a 52-50 lead on an Erica Barnes layup. Then, they missed 7 of 10 shots, had six turnovers, six fouls and were outscored 25-14 in a 75-66 loss.
So, like Butts said …
“We really shoot ourselves in the foot,” said Kama Griffitts, a senior forward. “We lose it ourselves.”
Candice Warthen, the Wildcats’ leading scorer, added: “We can play with these teams, we just have to finish; that’s the thing we’ve been harping on forever. We have to fight to the end.
The Wildcats’ first chance at a bounce-back is tonight at 6, in Birmingham, Ala., against UAB, and they could use a plus-one in the win column.
Their 1-6 start groups these Wildcats with some of the lesser teams in program history. In fact, it had happened only four times previously.
- In 1976-77, Arizona started 1-6 and finished 3-13.
- In 1977-78, started 1-6, finished 4-14.
- In 1978-79, started 0-7, finished 6-18.
- In 1980-81, started 1-6, finished 2-21.
But it’s not all bad. Griffitts, who transferred to the UA from North Idaho College two years ago, has been red-hot from three-point range.
She’s second in the Pac-12 in threes per game (3.1) and third in three-point percentage (46.8) — although, she might as well be first in that. She has attempted 47 threes; the two ahead of her have combined for only 29 attempts.
“I didn’t know that,” Griffitts said, “I feel like I’ve been playing a lot better, playing with more confidence in my ability to shoot the ball.”
Dating to last year, Griffitts has hit at least one long ball in 19 straight regular-season games.
Now, if only the rest of the team can foster some of those good vibes …
“If you’re watching us play, its a play here, a play there,” Butts said.
“Who knows, the first two games of the year are overtime losses, but if they’re overtime wins maybe we’re sitting here at 6-0, 7-0, 6-2.
“We have a lot of self-inflicted wounds, so we have to do better job of cleaning it up.”