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Men's Hoops: Adjustments pay off for Wildcats

SAUL LOEB/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Salim Stoudamire drives around UCLA's Janou Rubin during the second half of the Wildcats' 107-83 win Saturday over the Bruins in McKale Center.
By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, February 16, 2004
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UA 107 UCLA 83

When the No. 16 Arizona men's basketball team found itself tied for fourth in the Pac-10 last week with just three weeks to go in conference play, Wildcat coaches and players had just one option: adjust.

The Wildcats followed Thursday's 27-point win over Southern California with an equally impressive 107-83 win over UCLA Saturday afternoon in McKale Center, fueled by junior guard Salim Stoudamire's 34 points and a triple-double from sophomore forward Andre Iguodala. The effort set a career high for Stoudamire, and Iguodala's triple-double was the third of his career, a new school record.

Two and a half minutes into the game against the Trojans two days earlier, the Wildcats trailed 9-0, leaving UA head coach Lute Olson wondering what it would take to force his team to open games strong.

"There should be a sense of urgency every time we play," Olson said after Thursday's win. " We have to figure out why we get behind like we did at the beginning of the first half." photo

After shuffling his lineup, activating the full-court press and persuading Arizona's players to score early and often, Olson's pre- and mid-game adjustments propelled the Wildcats ahead of California, Oregon and the Bruins into second place in the Pacific 10 Conference. Arizona now trails only Stanford in the conference.

Olson's first adjustment was to shake up a lineup that had suffered slow starts in each of its previous four games.

He replaced UA leading scorer, sophomore forward Hassan Adams - who responded with 14 points and six rebounds off the bench - in the starting lineup with sophomore Chris Rodgers against UCLA, a move brought to the forefront by Adams' ankle injury during the first half against USC. Adams was questionable for Saturday's tilt.

Rodgers responded by registering eight points and forcing three turnovers in one 26-second span at the end of the first half, single-handedly turning a meager three-point UA lead into a comfortable 11-point cushion.

"I always come into the game and try to do my best each time out. I try to help us win, no matter what I have to do," said Rodgers, who played a game-high 37

minutes. "I don't think it matters who starts. As long as we come out each game with the same intensity, I think we will be fine."

Despite his half-minute, eight-point barrage, Rodgers' greatest impact occurred defensively, where he and his backcourt mates applied full-court pressure from the game's onset.

The payoff: 28 UCLA turnovers compared to just 12 for the Wildcats.

Freshman point guard Mustafa Shakur said running the full-court press won't tire out the Wildcats, even with the team's short bench.

"Our guards do the most work when we press," Shakur said. " We have a lot of guards who can come in and put pressure on the other team, and we're a lot more focused when we put pressure on the ball."

Olson was forced to scale back the press at times because of foul trouble to junior center Channing Frye, who scored 15 points but fouled out with zero rebounds in just 15 minutes of action. Olson's initial adjustment, however, negated a remarkable offensive effort for the Bruins, who shot 66 percent from the floor, a stat unheard of for a team that loses by two dozen points.

"Even though they shot 66 percent from the field, we definitely forced a lot of turnovers, and it was great that we scored 50 points off those turnovers," Olson said. "UCLA was shaken by the press, and it totally destroyed them."

Perhaps the Wildcats' most important adjustment this weekend was improving their effort in the opening minutes of the UCLA game.

Prior to its poor start against USC, the UA opened its previous three meetings down 10-3 to Stanford in what ended up a last-second loss, 9-0 to California - an eventual four-point defeat - and 17-6 to traditional Pac-10 lightweight Washington State in what would be a narrow 61-57 win.

Arizona matched the Bruins shot for shot to open up a 14-13 lead 3:24 into Saturday's game. The Wildcats hit the 40-point mark with 7:23 left in the first after scoring only 39 points in Thursday's entire first half.

Rodgers said that despite the team's strong efforts this weekend, the Wildcats have one more major adjustment to make - a mental adjustment - heading into a weekend set at Oregon and Oregon State.

"It is nice to get two wins here at home," he said, "but we need to go on the road and be road warriors."

The Wildcats are just 3-4 in Pac-10 play away from McKale Center this season as they head into their final road swing of the year.

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