Men's Hoops: Wildcats prepare for deep run in Pac-10 Tournament

By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, March 10, 2005

They've been here before, and they've lost everything.

Two years ago, the Arizona men's basketball team was a No. 1 seed in the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament and was upset in the quarterfinal game by No. 8 seed UCLA.

This year, the No. 8 Wildcats (25-14, 15-3 Pac-10) hope history doesn't repeat itself when they take on the California Golden Bears (13-15, 6-12) today at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, with tipoff scheduled for 1:20 p.m.

"I don't think we're going to take them lightly, considering what's at stake," said senior guard Salim Stoudamire.

Arizona faces eerie similarities between the 2003 Pac-10 Tournament and today's matchup.

  • In 2003, the Wildcats blew out UCLA by more than 20 points twice in the regular season, as they have done this season with the Golden Bears.

  • In both years, Arizona was the No.1 seed trying to avoid the upset and, at the same time, trying to beat the same team for the third time in the season.

  • Out of the Wildcats' three losses all-time in the Pac-10 Tournament, two have come in the quarterfinals.

  • In the three years since the tournament has come back, the Wildcats have gone 4-2, winning the tournament in 2002.

    Before winning a tournament title can come into play, Arizona has to beat a healthier California team.

    "We still have the seeding for the NCAA (at stake), so we're not settling for less. A 1 or a 2 (seed), hopefully a 1," said junior forward Hassan Adams. "We want be up there higher."

    "We're not going to sleep on Cal, and we're going to take them seriously," said senior center Channing Frye.

    Arizona beat California by a combined 41 points in its two meetings this year, the Wildcats' largest margin of victory against any Pac-10 team.

    Frye, who with Stoudamire was named to the All Pac-10 team yesterday, led the Wildcats in scoring in both games, putting up 20 points each time.

    The Wildcats' bench also shined against California, averaging 18.5 points per game and getting ample playing time.

    Still, Arizona head coach Lute Olson said improvements can be made before Arizona hits the floor for the quarterfinals.

    "There are a number of little things that can be changed with more mental focus," Olson said. "We have another opportunity to get better before the NCAA playoffs."

    Unlike 2003, when the Pac-10 Tournament couldn't have helped the Wildcats' seeding, this year's games will be a big factor in determining where the Wildcats are placed.

    "I actually think it can help us because it's still a case of where there's still some things we can do better than what we're doing," Olson said.

    Sophomore point guard Mustafa Shakur, who averaged 7.5 assists in the two games against California, has improved his play of late.

    When the Wildcats are successful, Shakur often plays ringleader, not always scoring but getting the team into its offense and getting people involved.

    Olson said Saturday's game at ASU was a good example of what Arizona needs from Shakur.

    "I think Mustafa on Saturday played as solidly as he has played all year long," Olson said. "His decision making was excellent."

    The Staples Center should be a welcomed sight for Adams, who is from the Los Angeles area.

    In last season's tournament, Adams, who was named an honorable mention for the All Pac-10 team, reached career highs in both points (30) and rebounds (14).

    If the game against California becomes close, the Wildcats need not worry. They are 7-1 in games decided by five points or fewer this season and have won their last six.

    Arizona has won 12 of its last 13 meetings with California and is 2-1 in neutral site games.

    Olson said he believes the Wildcats match up well with California, and that Arizona has proven in two seemingly easy wins that the Bears don't pose a serious threat.

    That theory didn't prove to be true two years ago. The Wildcats plan to take a different approach this time around.

    "At this point it's one game, and it's a neutral site," Olson said.