By Maureen Mullen, Special to CNNSI.com
The sun is shining brightly for the Arizona women's basketball team. Jumping out to an expected 14-2 record, including an impressive 4-0 mark in conference play, leaves the Wildcats exceeding even the greatest fans expectations. The team's only losses have come to then-No. 9 Auburn and then-No. 5 Notre Dame.
"I've learned something over the years. When you win, you're humble," said Arizona coach Joan Bonvicini. "And you don't do anything different. Our team has been consistent and they have been confident. They go to practice ready to get a job done. I really have to compliment our Wildcats."
Playing with only nine players on their roster, balance is the key to the Wildcats game. Seven players are averaging over eight points a game, and the team doesn't really have a weakness at any position.
However, standing at the center of the Wildcats success is senior guard Reshea Bristol. Bristol boasts back to back Pac-10 player of the week honors, for her impressive numbers, especially since the advent of conference play. But in addition to the strong minutes Bristol has on the floor, her experience is invaluable to the young Wildcat squad, witnessed no better than in the tight Stanford game, when the senior scored the go-ahead three to put the Wildcats up by five with four minutes to play. Her inspired play continued as she assisted on six of the final seven baskets, picked away a crucial steal, and hit her two free-throws in the closing minutes in Arizona's 68-65 victory.
After averaging 22.0 points, 6.5 assists, 4.5 steals and 4.0 rebounds against the Stanford and California last weekend, Bristol remained on fire in this weekend's series against the Washington schools.
In Thursday's rout of the Cougars, Bristol notched her third double-double of the season, posting 15 points and 10 assists. Then in Saturday's win over Washington she dropped in 10 points and a school record 16 assists -- and that was after Bonvicini declared she was a little off her game due to an eye injury in practice.
Bristol accounts much of her success, especially in the assist column, to the excellent play of the Wildcat posts.
"The post players are very athletic and that's what we need," said Bristol after the win over the Huskies. "It makes it easier to get the ball inside so everyone can do their job."
Bonvicini who figured that the 00-01 season would be a rebuilding year for the Wildcats, has nothing but praise for Bristol, who seems to be the key link in turning the solid Arizona basketball squad into an early season Pac-10 powerhouse.
"She has been very consistent and unselfish," said Bonvicini of her senior star. "She's been consistent whether it be giving the big assist or hitting the clutch shot. She makes so many things happen, she is at the top of her game"
Where's the tradition?Seldom has there been a season in Pac-10 history where UCLA, USC and Stanford weren't all in the top half of the standings. All three legendary programs have turned out some of the greatest west coast basketball teams and players in history. However, as the women's game begins to build momentum, with more and more girls playing competitively, suddenly the balance seems to have shifted.
The Bruins, the Trojans, and the Cardinal have gone a combined 2-8 in the opening week of Pac-10 play, and have quickly learned that legends get you nowhere when it comes to the scoreboard.
UCLA has struggled with the loss of five top players to graduation including Maylana Martin and Erica Gomez, as well as the transfer of sophomore guard Nicole Kaczmarski, and is forced to start several players with little to none Division I basketball experience.
USC and Stanford both brought in a crop of top recruits and were forecasted to be among the conference leaders again this season, however have struggled against the heightened Pac-10 competition.
In Stanford's case the loss of sophomore guard Jamie Carey and freshman guard Susan King, both to season ending injury has caused a wake of problems. The Cardinal roster no longer boasts a single player under 6-foot, and while size is good, Stanford is struggling to keep up with many teams quicker, smaller guards. With Oregon State's Nicole Funn and Felicia Ragland destroying the Cardinal on Thursday and Oregon guards Jamie Craighead and Kourtney Shreve doing the honors Saturday night.
"We have a lot of players that take pride in what they do, so this is very painful for people," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, after the team's second loss of the weekend. "This is a challenge for us, but I believe that our players will rally."
The Trojans, meanwhile, just seem out of sync. While freshman Ebony Hoffmann and Aisha Hollans are doing a good job offensively for USC, some of the more experienced players need to step up to get them through some of the tighter moments.
Golden Bears bust by BeaversThe week's most unexpected victory goes to California, which rallied past Oregon State 79-72 on the Beaver's home court. Five Bears ended up in double figures in the contest.
"I'm very happy the way our team came back after being beat by 30 points by Oregon," said Cal coach Caren Horstmeyer. "I think our team could have very well have just put their heads down, and they didn't. They came out down 10-0 and fought back to get into the game. From that point on, I think they started to develop some confidence."
Oregon State is no slim opponent. The Beavers whizzed past Stanford just two nights earlier in Corvallis and have jumped out to an impressive 9-4 start on the year.
Horstmeyer and her Bears might have gotten just the momentum they need to take into this weekend's home contest against the struggling Stanford squad.
The week aheadIn addition to the Bay Area brawl between Stanford and Cal there are many hot games in the Pac-10 this weekend.
Home court advantage might be all the aspiring Washington squad needs to send a major upset Oregon's way. The Huskies and the Cougars host the Oregon schools this weekend, in what will surely be some tight games. While Oregon is favored in the games versus both schools, the Oregon State games could go either way.
Down in Los Angeles both USC and UCLA will try to get their seasons back on track, hosting Arizona and Arizona State. Victories are a must for Arizona if they are to keep climbing in the AP rankings.
Maureen Mullen is a reporter for The Stanford Daily, the student newspaper of Stanford University.