Wildcats shrug off loss of center, roll to 93-81 win

By Patrick Klein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 19, 1996

With the bulk of the attention focused on the one Wildcat who wasn't playing, the rest of the Arizona men's basketball team made like a chicken - the head may have been chopped off, but the body isn't necessarily dead.

Six Wildcats scored in double figures last night as No. 18 Arizona defeated Southern Cal 93-81 in front of 14,288 at McKale Center.

Joseph Blair - the Wildcats' leading scorer, rebounder and primary inside defensive presence - watched from the bench in street clothes as Arizona (12-3 overall, 2-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference) built an early lead and never let the Trojans (9-7, 2-3) ba ck in the game.

Blair has been ruled academically ineligible for violating an Arizona Board of Regents requirement that athletes maintain a 2.0 grade-point average.

Starting in Blair's place, senior forward Corey Williams contributed 18 points and 10 rebounds. Ben Davis, Blair's usual partner in the middle, also helped ease the loss with a career high 21 points and 11 rebounds.

A couple of sophomores picked the right time to come out of minor midseason slumps, as guard Miles Simon and forward Michael Dickerson, who lost his starting spot to Joe McLean, each scored 14 points while once again showing their ability to drive the lan e and create shots.

"There is a missing link inside, but everyone knows their role," said McLean, who had 15 points and five rebounds. "We talked about it before the game, and everyone came to play tonight."

"This is really good for our confidence," said Reggie Geary, who scored 11 points and dished out five assists. "We got back to how we played at the beginning of the season: with a lot of balance."

Even without Blair, the Wildcats were able to get the Trojans' big men into foul trouble. Jaha Wilson, who scored19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, had to sit out six minutes in the second half after picking up his fourth foul with 15 minutes remaining. S ix-foot-11 center Avondre Jones had to sit down for a five-minute stretch after drawing his fourth with 13 minutes to play.

"When you lose your leading scorer, rebounder and critical defensive guy inside, the approach is everybody has to step up and give an even stronger effort," Arizona head coach Lute Olson said. "This was a very together group in practice. They said, 'This is the way it is,' and went out and played."

"I thought their guys really rose to the occasion," USC head coach Charlie Parker said.

Besides cutting down on turnovers - Arizona committed 15 - Olson said his biggest concern was getting Davis and Williams to play in sync in the middle.

"That will get better game by game," he said.

The Wildcats took a 40-30 lead into the locker room after shooting 60 percent in the first half. The second half was a case of Arizona simply not letting USC make a run to get back into the game. The Wildcats' lead was never less than seven and at one poi nt was 15, at 68-53 with seven minutes to go.

Arizona might have turned the game into a rout if not for the shooting of Trojan forward Stais Boseman, who scored 16 in the half and finished with a game-high 22 points before fouling out in the final minute.

"We tried to recruit Stais Boseman hard, and you saw why tonight out on the court," Olson said.

While Blair was not on the court, he attended the team's shoot-around and offered support on the bench and in the locker room, Olson said.

"That's what we need," Olson said. "He knows his best support is with his teammates and they need him."

While the win brings Arizona back to .500 in the conference, Saturday's game against defending national champion UCLA will be the measuring stick for this team, and the players know it.

"It's big, real big," Geary said about the game with the Bruins. "We need the win to get back on top, and if we get it we'll get our confidence back."

For Davis, the game means a chance to play against another quality big man. This time it will be 6-10 freshman center Jelani McCoy, who leads the Bruins in rebounding with 7.8 a game and leads the conference with 3.9 blocks.

But for Davis, who has been Arizona's Mr. Dependability this season, it will be just another day at the office.

"I've just got to play hard," he said. "But I've played against a lot bigger people."