By Brian Penso
SAUL LOEB/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior guard Jason Gardner goes for a loose ball in Arizona's win at Arizona State earlier this month. Gardner and the Wildcats will play the first of two games in the Bay Area starting tonight with Cal.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday February 27, 2003
Wildcats try and put an end to Cal's 17 game win streak at home
Before the season began, the Wildcats had three goals: Take home Pacific-10 Conference title, win the Pac-10 tournament and be crowned NCAA Champions.
With four games remaining in the regular season, the Wildcats can move one step closer to being named the Pac-10 regular season champions as they hit the road to take on California at 8:30 p.m. in the Haas Pavilion.
The top-ranked Wildcats (21-2 overall, 13-1 Pac-10) currently hold a 1.5 game lead over No. 23 California (19-5, 12-3), and a win this evening would give them a commanding 2.5 game lead with only three games remaining.
"We want to go out and clinch the Pac-10 this weekend," senior point guard Jason Gardner said. "This would be the seniors' second title. I don't want to share it. We want to get two wins and come home as Pac-10 champs."
It won't be easy.
Arizona has an unblemished 7-0 road record in conference play, but Cal has enjoyed a 17-game home winning streak.
Most teams would be intimidated by playing in a hostile environment, but Olson said that the team shines when faced with adverse and tough situations.
Besides facing a tough crowd, the Wildcats take the court tonight for the first time without Dennis Latimore, who quit the team Tuesday for reasons undisclosed.
Olson said the UA players and the Arizona program are used to playing under tough conditions, and tonight's game will be no different.
In the teams' first meeting in Tucson, the Wildcats were able to contain Cal's top two scorers, Joe Shipp and Amit Tamir, which led to a 95-80 UA victory.
Shipp and Tamir combined for 35 points, but most of their points didn't come until the game was out of reach.
Olson said containing these two players, along with guard Brian Weathers, is going to be essential.
"They create a lot of problems because they have so many scorers," Olson said. "It's not like playing ASU where if you limit (Ike Diogu's) touches, you can have a big bearing on their game, or (Jason) Kapono at UCLA. Cal has a number of guys that can score, and they really share the ball."
Cal has the luxury of having three prolific scorers, and Olson said the Wildcats must pressure the ball to force the Golden Bears out of their set offense.
Pressuring the ball has been a trademark of UA's defensive attack this season, led by sophomore guard Salim Stoudamire and freshman forward Andre Iguodala.
If the Wildcats decide to play man to man rather than use the 1-3-1 zone, Stoudamire will more than likely begin the game, guarding Weathers, who has averaged 22.5 points per game in his last two outings.
Off the bench, Iguodala will be used to contain Shipp and force him away from the basket.
"If you look at the first half, their big three (Shipp, Tamir and Weathers) was 7-of-19," Olson said. "That was the key. I think the key was we really did a great job of keeping them out of their normal operational area."
Defensively, the Wildcats know what they need to do to win, but the same may not be the case for California.
In the first meeting, senior Luke Walton only played 13 minutes and was held scoreless.
Even with Walton being held without a point, Arizona still managed to score 95 points in the victory.
Arizona finished the game with six players in double figures, and Cal had no answer for UA's offensive depth and quick ball movement.
"We were not consistent in the first game with Arizona," Cal head coach Ben Braun said. "They capitalized on every mistake that we made and good teams tend to do that. That is one of Arizona's biggest qualities ... capitalizing on mistakes and missed opportunities. We have to play our best or they will take advantage of that."
If Arizona has the same offensive balance this evening, it could be a long night for the Golden Bears.
Cal's 17-game home winning streak is the longest current streak in the nation, with its last home loss to UA last season · An Arizona win this evening would be Olson's 276 career conference win, which would tie him for second all-time with former Oregon State head coach Slats Gill. Olson would then only trail the legendary UCLA head coach John Wooden, who won 304 Pac-10 games · UA's 21-2 start ties the 1987-88 and 1992-93 teams for the fastest start in school history· More than likely, Jason Gardner will become the all-time leader in career minutes played as he is 16 minutes short of passing Sean Elliot's mark of 4,499 · Olson was named a finalist for the 2003 Naismith Coach of the Year Award, announced yesterday by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. Also among the 25 finalists selected are Cal's Ben Braun and Stanford's Mike Montgomery, both of whom the Wildcats will face this this weekend in the Bay Area.