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Olson seeks 500th win at UA

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Freshman UA guard Mustafa Shakur shoots over a Team Nike defender last week in McKale Center. The Wildcats open regular-season play tonight at home against NAU.
By Christopher Wuensch
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday November 24, 2003
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No. 4 Wildcats open play against Northern Arizona

Season number 100 tips off tonight for the UA men's basketball team when the Wildcats take on in-state rival Northern Arizona in what is primed to be a monumental evening in Wildcat history.

Hall of Fame head coach Lute Olson guns for his 500th win as head coach of the Wildcats as Arizona takes on the Lumberjacks in McKale Center tonight at 6:30.

Olson shrugged his shoulders when asked about the milestone, downplaying its significance.

"It would be a nice number," he said with a laugh. "I would think ÷ I would hope ÷ by the end of the year, I'd be at 500."

If Wildcat fans ÷ and Olson himself ÷ had their way, Olson would have set the milestone last March during the NCAA tournament. Instead, Kansas cut the Wildcats' season and national title hopes two games short, pushing Olson's landmark win to the opening of the 2003-04 campaign.

By achieving the mark, Olson will be nine victories shy of tying Fred Enke for most wins all-time as an Arizona skipper, and will close within eight wins of 700 for his career.

"It's something that's foremost in my mind ÷ the numbers," said a sarcastic Olson again.

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona head coach Lute Olson could win his 500th game at the UA tonight against the Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona in McKale Center.

Before any celebration takes place on Lute and Bobbi Olson Court, though, the Wildcats must get past the Lumberjacks, a team that was down just three to the top-ranked UA squad at halftime of last November's matchup and that beat UCLA in Los Angeles just days later.

"I'm very anxious," said freshman point guard Mustafa Shakur. "Every game, I try and treat it the same way. NAU, I think we're going to be ready."

At No. 4 in the nation according to the Associated Press, Arizona enters the season as the favorite to win the Pacific 10 Conference.

After a brief but strong preseason in which the Wildcats blew out their only two opponents ÷ the Sydney Comets of Australia and Team Nike, comprised of former college standouts ÷ Arizona will face an upstart Northern Arizona squad with a win already under its belt.

The Big Sky Conference school handily defeated Cal State Fullerton in Flagstaff Friday night by a score of 77-60 to open its season.

Much like the Wildcats, the Lumberjacks return eight letterwinners to this year's squad and have switched to an up-tempo style of play.

Leading the Lumberjacks into Tucson is Flagstaff native Kodiak Yazzie. One of four returning starters from last season, the 6-foot-3 senior poured in 18 points to lead NAU past the Titans on Friday.

Since 1919, the Wildcats have dominated the Lumberjacks, holding an 86-27 series advantage. The last time Northern Arizona was able to beat the Wildcats was back on December 14, 1968, when the Lumberjacks stopped their in-state rivals, 76-73.

"I think they'll have more confidence because they've played here," Olson said. "And they beat UCLA last year."

Since that loss in Flagstaff almost 35 years ago, Arizona has reeled off 20 straight wins against its Grand Canyon State counterpart.

If history is any indication, Arizona should have no problem disposing of the Lumberjacks. The Wildcats have dropped NAU 57 of 62 times in Tucson.

If You Go:

Who: Arizona vs. Northern Arizona
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: McKale Center
TV: Fox Sports Net Arizona

Last time the Wildcats took the court, they defeated Team Nike in convincing fashion, 116-91, behind sophomore forward Andre Iguodala's 23 points.

Six UA players scored in double figures, including junior center Channing Frye, who tallied 20 points and six rebounds against Team Nike.

"I think it's awesome," said Frye of the balanced scoring attack. "I hope we can get that every game."

"I'm anxious for it to get going, too, but I was very happy with a team like Nike because they had very good perimeter shooters. They had physical guys; they ran the court well," Olson said. "With Northern Arizona, it will be similar. They really get the ball down the court well."

Olson's squad will welcome back forward Isaiah Fox tonight after the 6-foot-9 junior was suspended for the team's two preseason games. Fox was arrested earlier this month on charges of stealing less than $3 worth of items from U-Mart in the Student Union Memorial Center.

"With Isaiah back now, that will give us real good depth at each of the positions. When Isaiah comes in, he can come in for Hassan or for Channing. When we rest Andre, then we'll have Hassan there and we'll have the three guards rotating in the two positions."

Fox should provide much-needed height in the paint, giving Arizona three solid rebounders on both ends of the court. Iguodala has been shouldering Arizona's rebounding load this preseason, averaging 13.5 boards in the two exhibition wins.

Frye will get the start for the Wildcats in the middle, but should the 6-foot-11 junior get into foul trouble early, Fox will be called upon to step in.

Arizona expects to be at full strength tonight just in time for the regular season. Sophomore guards Salim Stoudamire (thigh) and Chris Rodgers (foot), along with Fox (eye), will play despite injuries that have slowed them at times this preseason.

The Wildcats will go primarily with an eight-player set, with Shakur at the point and Stoudamire lining up at shooting guard. Frye will be flanked by Iguodala and sophomore Hassan Adams, who will play his first regular season game in the power forward position.

"Hassan's quickness is going to give a big guy more trouble than a big (guy)'s advantage on Hassan," Olson said. "With Hassan, it's like you fire him out of a cannon, he's up so quickly."

Dave Sitton will call the action for tonight's game, to be aired live on Fox Sports Net Arizona, with former UA All-American Bob Elliott providing color commentary. Brian Jeffries calls the action alongside Joe Nehls for radio audiences on KNST 790 AM.

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