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Gators hand Wildcats first loss

By Christopher Wuensch
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, December 1, 2003
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With the UA men's basketball team trailing by one with seven seconds to play in Friday night's MassMutual Classic matchup against No. 8 Florida, Salim Stoudamire took the game into his own hands.

Unfortunately for the preseason All-American ÷ and the Wildcats ÷ his shot went long, and Arizona was dealt its first loss of the season, 78-77.

"I've often said I would rather lose a game like this than beat some team by 40," head coach Lute Olson said to the Associated Press. "We can take a lot out of this game. We have a lot to learn."

The blame for Arizona's first loss of the season could not be pinned solely on the shoulders of Stoudamire. The Wildcats led Florida from the 11:29 mark of the second half until Florida center Bonell Colas drove uncontested to the hoop for the go-ahead lay-up with seven seconds to play.

Poor shooting from outside ultimately caused Arizona's downfall, despite having five players in double digits.

"We need to shoot the ball better," Olson said. "Our wings had a tough night shooting-wise and Florida had something to do with that."

Stoudamire, who had put the Wildcats up by four with just 2:38 to play, missed his final three shots, including the front end of a one-and-one which could have given Arizona a two- or three-point advantage with 23 seconds to go.

The sharp-shooting junior, renowned for his arsenal of long-range jumpers, has struggled in Arizona's first two games, averaging just 8.5 points and going 1 of 3 from the free throw line.

"With Salim, it boils down to confidence," said assistant coach Josh Pastner of Stoudamire's slow start.

All is not lost for the junior, however, according to Pastner, who sees the Portland, Ore. native returning back to form soon.

"Salim can flat-out light it up," he said. "He's a perfectionist; he'll bounce back."

A former Arizona guard, Pastner anticipates that Stoudamire will have a big game when the Wildcats next take the court Saturday in St. Louis to face the Saint Louis Billikens.

"He's going to feel good and his shots are going to start to fall," Pastner said.

Arizona will likely need more than just Stoudamire to bounce back if the Wildcats are to beat Saint. Louis. Sophomore forward Andre Iguodala, who posted 18 points in the Wildcats' opening game against Northern Arizona, was held to just six against the Gators on 2 of 13 shooting from the floor.

On the positive side for the Wildcats, sophomore guard Chris Rodgers saw his minutes increase with starting freshman guard Mustafa Shakur in foul trouble for most of the second half. Rodgers made the most of his 24 minutes by picking up a team-high 17 points off the bench. He proved his value by playing in three different guard slots throughout the game.

Contrary to the offensive mentality the Gators used against the Wildcats, Saint Louis will likely look to slow the game tempo down. After taking on West Virginia Tuesday, the Conference USA squad could very well enter Saturday's game with a perfect 4-0 record.

The Billikens are another team in a long line of early season tests for this young Arizona squad, which travels to Madison Square Garden in New York to face No. 11 Texas three days after the matchup with Saint Louis.

"They'll be ready to play," Pastner said of the Billikens. "It will be a great test for us."

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