Warthen, Arizona women win exhibition opener

TUCSON, Ariz. — Junior guard Candice Warthen made an impactful return to the court in Arizona women’s basketball’s 80-65 exhibition victory over Fort Lewis at McKale Center on Saturday.

After suffering an injury late in the 2011-12 season and missing all of last year, Warthen finally returned to the court with an impressive performance, scoring 23 points, grabbing five steals, pulling down three rebounds and adding two assists.

“Candice showed what we’ve been missing for the last year and a half in terms of what she was able to do today and come out there and play,” Arizona coach Niya Butts said. “This is her first true game since going out. Boy, she has got a motor. Her athleticism is going to help us so much down the stretch, so we are just so happy to have her back.”

Arizona’s four freshmen also came to play, accounting for 36 of the Wildcats’ 80 points and 29 of their 38 rebounds.

Freshman forward LaBrittney Jones posted a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds, also adding two blocks and three steals. Of her 24 points, 10 came at the free-throw line, where she hit 10 of 12 shots.

“I could have played better, but it felt great because I haven’t played in a year,” Jones said. “I was ready to get back on the court.”

Freshman forward Dejza James added nine rebounds and six points for Arizona, while freshman guard Ashley Merrill had five points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.

“We played four freshmen. A lot,” Butts said. “And they were able to get production. They went to the free throw line and knocked down big shots. No matter who you’re playing, you still have to make those shots. We feel pretty good about our newcomers and we were able to focus in.”

Seniors Kama Griffitts and Carissa Crutchfield added 13 points and seven assists, respectively.

As a team, the Wildcats forced 28 turnovers.

“We always focus on defense that is our number one priority,” Warthen said. “I’m more of a defensive player. I love to score, but I like getting after people on defense too. There were a lot of opportunities for me to get steals, so I took advantage of them.”

Arizona will open its regular season at the Iona Tip-off Tournament in New Rochelle, N.Y. on Friday.