TUCSON - The University of Arizona has named Niya Butts, Kentucky associate coach and a former star on Tennessee teams that won back-to-back NCAA championships, as its new women's basketball coach.
Butts replaces Joan Bonvicini, who was fired last month after coaching the Wildcats for 17 seasons.
Butts concentrated on working with the guards at Kentucky, which finished 17-16 and made a school-record fourth straight postseason appearance, playing in the women's NIT.
Butts was the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year in 1997 on Tennessee's NCAA championship team that year and the next.
The 30-year-old coached at Michigan State for one year, Tennessee Technological for two seasons and joined the Kentucky staff in 2003.
A native of Americus, Ga., Butts earned a bachelor's degree in social work at Tennessee and a master's in education from Tennessee Tech.
Bonvicini compiled a 287-223 record at Arizona and has an overall record of 612-294 as a college coach, but finished 29-63 in her final three seasons. The Wildcats finished 4-14 in the Pacific-10 Conference last season and 10-20 overall.
The Arizona Wildcats' last NCAA tournament appearance was in 2005. Bonvicini coached for a dozen years at Long Beach State previously.
Arizona Athletic Director Jim Livengood said Butts "brings playing experience, championship experience, coaching and recruiting experience and a bright, young mind."
There were a number of quality candidates, "but the direction we expect to head with Niya gives us immediate cause for optimism and downright anticipation," he said. "I believe everyone connected with the program will soon share those feelings."
"This is the opportunity I have been waiting for," Butts said. "Arizona is a great place, and I am looking forward to taking the Wildcats to the next level."
Pat Summitt, her coach at Tennessee and the all-time winningest college coach of either gender, called Butts one of the bright young coaches in women's basketball.
"I see this as a tremendous opportunity for her to take over the reins of her own program at Arizona and to compete in one of the nation's best conferences - the Pac-10."
Butts did all the little things right as a player and will apply those same qualities as a head coach, she added.
And Kentucky head coach Matt Mitchell said he was thrilled for an "extremely deserving" Butts.
"I have worked with no one in my career that has her unique combination of skills to excel as a coach. I have no doubt in my mind that she will turn Arizona into one of the top programs in the country that will last for many years.
"She helped take Kentucky from the bottom of the SEC to being one of the top-four teams in a short period of time, a testament to her ability to recruit and coach."