By Maxx Wolfson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday February 19, 2003
If Jason Gardner is going to win Pac-10 Player of the Year, it's going to take some convincing of some of the coaches around the conference.
The early favorite for the award has to be between California's Joe Shipp and Arizona State's Ike Diogu, but the senior point guard for the No. 1 Wildcats definitely has the vote of his coaching staff.
"Last year, the critics said he was scoring too much, this year not enough," UA associate head coach Jim Rosborough said. "Certainly (Joe) Shipp has had a good year, and (Ike) Diogu at ASU. But here we're sitting at 12-1 through a very tough stretch of games. I don't know what else (Jason) could do. I wouldn't trade him for anyone and everyone on our staff would say the same thing."
During the Pac-10's weekly teleconference yesterday, Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery wouldn't give his favorite for the award.
"I'm going to stay away from all that stuff," Montgomery said.
But he did have kind words for the UA senior.
"He tends to make big plays when big plays are needed to be made," Montgomery said. "He's been a great player for their program."
Coaches like Ike, too
Maybe it was because Diogu won the Pac-10 Player of the Week award on Monday, but nearly every coach answered questions about the freshman.
"He is the best offensive center in the league in terms of his productivity," Montgomery said.
UCLA head coach Steve Lavin also had nothing but praise for Diogu.
"He's given them a force at both ends of the floor," Lavin said. "In basketball, traditionally you want to build your basketball team from the inside out. He has taken them to another level."
Frosh in fresh places
Although it seems as though all the talk is about Diogu, he is not the only freshman basketball player serving an important role for his team.
Others that have been exceptional so far have been UA's Hassan Adams and Andre Iguodala, UCLA's Ryan Hollins, Washington's Nate Robinson and California's Richard Midgley, just to name a few.
"It was a good recruiting year for freshmen across the board," Montgomery said. "The second thing is a lot of teams lost a lot of key players. We lost a couple to the draft. USC lost key players and UCLA lost some key players. It's become freshmen by necessity."
The Huskies have even started up to four freshmen in one game.
"I think those guys as a group showed the most energy," UW head coach Lorenzo Romar said. "They showed the most willingness to play with intensity the entire time they were in there. As a group that's what we needed."
Pac-10 bubble watch
Three teams are battling for the final spot for the upcoming Pac-10 Tournament: UCLA, Washington and Oregon State.
The Beavers have a one-game lead on the Huskies and a two-game lead on the Bruins.
"I don't think you can ignore reality; kids understand where they are in the league," OSU head coach Jay John said. "You're constantly reshuffling the deck in terms of priority for each team."
Washington State is the only conference team without a win.
UA duo up for Naismith
Arizona seniors Jason Gardner and Luke Walton were announced among the 20 finalists for the annual Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year award.
Gardner is leading the team with 14.9 points per game and is the team leader in assists and steals.
Gardner has also tallied the second most defensive rebounds so far this season on the team despite being just 5-foot-10.
Walton made the list while averaging just 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds in 18 games this season due to ankle injuries. Walton averaged 15.7 points and 7.3 boards per game last season.