By Roman Veytsman
SAUL LOEB/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Freshman guard Daniel Dillon drives to the basket against a Sonoma State defender during the Wildcats' exhibition victory Thursday night. Arizona opens regular season play today at 7 p.m.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
UA kicks off season at home against USD
The UA men's basketball begins its 2004-05 title run tonight as the Wildcats play San Diego in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament at 7 p.m.
While the Wildcats hope to be in a different kind of tournament come season's end, the preseason NIT holds prestige in the basketball community and could determine the character of this year's team.
"It will be a real challenge for us," said head coach Lute Olson.
San Diego is coming off of a 4-26 campaign including a 1-13 conference mark and 0-15 record on the road.
Men's Hoops Season Opener
San Diego Toreros
Today, 7 p.m.
Radio: KCUB 1290 AM
The Toreros, however, return three redshirt players who did not play last season. Juniors Corey Belser and Floyd North are back, as is sophomore Ross DeRogatis. Along with the redshirt players, San Diego expects junior newcomers Michael Kirkpatrick and Michael Shepherd to contribute right away.
"The University of San Diego will create a whole lot more problems than either of the exhibition teams created," Olson said. "They have good experience, good size and some outstanding shooters."
The leader of the team is senior Bryce Vounang, a 6-foot-8 center from Cameroon and a first-team all-West Coast Conference honoree last year who could challenge UA senior center Channing Frye in the paint.
"It forces Channing to come ready to play," said assistant coach Josh Pastner. "One of his focuses for this year is defense."
Arizona opens the season ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press poll and No. 11 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll. Arizona has won the pre-season NIT three times in its history, with the last championship coming in 1999 when they defeated Kentucky.
Isaiah Fox will not play once again because of previous off-court transgressions, Olson said.
SAUL LOEB/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA sophomore forward Ivan Radenovic, left, puts the ball up against a Sonoma State defender during the Wildcats' exhibition victory Thursday in McKale Center.
"He's done a really nice job," Olson said. "He's been working really hard at practice. He hasn't let this affect him in the least."
Fox will likely play Thursday if the Wildcats can get past San Diego.
"If we play Thursday, he'll play," Olson said, adding that sophomore forward Ivan Radenovic will start in his place
Olson said he plans to go with a three-guard lineup at times as well.
"It gives us really good defensive quickness on the court with (junior Chris) Rodgers, (sophomore Mustafa) Shakur, and (senior Salim) Stoudamire," Olson said. "So we do have some options that way if need be. I think our quickness will create some problems as well."
Freshman forward Mohamed Tangara, who saw his first action in the last exhibition game against Sonoma State is likely to see even more playing time against San Diego. With sophomore forward Kirk Walters redshirting, Tangara will be more of a factor in the rotation.
"It was encouraging to see Mohamed come in and play some for us," Olson said. "He made a difference on the glass. We can count on him to give us some assistance."
If the Wildcats advance to the championship of the NIT, they are poised to face No. 2 Wake Forest from the other side of the bracket. Arizona second round opponent will be the winner of the Wright State/Tulsa game and would take place Thursday, if things go right for UA.
The last and only meeting between Arizona and San Diego took place in 1973, when Arizona won 79-70. Olson has never faced San Diego in his career.
"Coach Holland does a great job," Pastner said of the Toreros coach. "We're going to get their best shot."