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Commentary: Wildcats prove worthy of hype

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Jeff Lund
By Jeff Lund
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday January 27, 2003

I don't know how many times I heard, "Why is Jason Gardner on the baseline on defense?" during Saturday's game at Kansas. The 1-3-1 zone that Arizona has been using in the last few games has allowed Gardner to get out on the shooters in the corners, rather than drawing out the forwards and centers to the corners, allowing the paint to open up.

Gardner's incredibly tough nature allows him to get rebounds, strip the ball and compete with the Nick Collisons by getting down low and under the big men, preventing them from getting position.

What makes this so successful is Gardner's desire and knack. He is the best in the country right now at doing the little things. Whenever Arizona needs a steal, deflection, or rebound Gardner is there. He has 29 rebounds in the last four games and he's just 5 feet 10 inches.

However, the Wildcats' interior defense must improve to be able to let Gardner spend some time around opponents' frontcourt, otherwise the day-in and day-out beatings he takes underneath will take their toll.

Channing Frye dominated ASU's stud Ike Diogu because he was motivated by the media's buildup of the freshman's ability. Frye again had the chance to make a name for himself against Collison on Saturday even with Arizona in the zone, Frye's primary responsibility was to protect the basket and clean the glass.

To Frye's credit, after a tough first half, Frye grabbed five boards in the second as the Wildcats pulled away. And remember, Frye is only a sophomore and he has played against current NBA players Lonnie Baxter (Chicago Bulls), Dan Gadzuric (Milwaukee Bucks), Curtis Borchardt (Utah Jazz), Sam Clancy (Philadelphia 76ers) and Drew Gooden (Memphis Grizzlies). Frye is well on his way.

One more note on Saturday's game: Arizona dealt Kansas its 100th all-time loss (48 years) in Allen Fieldhouse on the day Paul Pierce's jersey was retired, and with former KU great Danny Manning in the stands. Arizona has lost 71 games in McKale Center since it opened 30 years ago. For what it's worth, Duke has lost over 130 games at home in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but it has been open for over 60 years

Any time Arizona beats Stanford, life is good. This week the co-game ball has to go to the women's swim and dive team for its upset over No. 4 Stanford. Saturday, the women completed the weekend with a win over No. 9 Cal. Between these big victories and the men's basketball win in Kansas, it was quite a weekend for Arizona athletics

It was sad to see the youth of the women's team get the best of it last week in losing to Arizona State. Freshman Shawntinice Polk was noted in Sports Illustrated magazine as being one of the top five players in the country to change the women's game. Polk made a mark in the ASU loss, and though it wasn't as massive as her usual line, she still managed to tally a double-double in the frustrating loss in Tempe.

When this team hits its stride, watch out. It has the perfect combo of senior leaders and young talent, it's just missing a little something to bring it all together. In the women's game the best teams rarely lose; that's why you see the champion having less than three losses traditionally. Arizona has proven it can hang with anyone, now it's time to stop dropping games at the Washingtons, Ohio States and ASUs of the world

I guess those around-the-college-football-world and some NFL scouts think more of former UA quarterback Jason Johnson than the majority of the student section at the football games. Johnson was named an alternate for the Hula Bowl, a huge opportunity for Johnson to prove that his East-West Shrine game was just the tip of the iceberg, given his ability and his quarterback wits.

The Hula Bowl is another college football game that heads the top players in the country all looking for professional careers in the NFL

Life without Jennie Finch will be difficult for the softball team. Finch was the epitome of an "ace" on the mound. Her success drove Jenny Gladding out, and now Mike Candrea will have to deal with mound uncertainty. Run production will be very important to keep Arizona pitchers out of tight situations. Finch was used to it, and thrived in them

In closing, I would like to come full circle and return to the men's basketball team. All the talk around college basketball is about the team from Tucson. Olson no longer has to share airtime with the likes of Duke. Even the commentators at the Australian Open made conversation about Arizona's victory over Kansas. There is something special about this team, in case you haven't noticed. The best part about this team is not the talent, it's the attitude. In 2000-01 when Arizona went to the championship game, the lineup was loaded, but the ego was huge.

This team is focused. Points, threes, lines don't matter. It's all about the title.

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