By Amanda Branam
KEVIN B. KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona's Ivan Radenovic moves past University of Alabama at Birmingham defenders to lay in another two points in the second half.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, March 21, 2005
BOISE, Idaho - In reaching its fourth Sweet 16 in five years, the Arizona men's basketball team was the only No. 3 seed to make it past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, but it wasn't by accident.
The Wildcats advanced by beating Alabama-Birmingham 85-63 in the second round Saturday and Utah State 66-53 in the first round Thursday.
The Wildcats defeated the Blazers with strong second-half shooting, stifling defense and reliance on more than their two senior stars - Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire - to handle some of the offensive load.
After being the favorite during the team's first two games, Arizona will most likely be an underdog from here on out, starting with Thursday's matchup against No. 2 seed Oklahoma State in Chicago, with a potential date with No. 1 seed Illinois to follow.
If the Wildcats want to continue their run through March, keeping with the way they played through rounds one and two will be vital as the competition gets tougher.
Consistent shooting, quick start key
Arizona shot exactly 50 percent from the floor overall in its two games this weekend, and 36.1 percent from beyond the arc. The Wildcats went on a tear in the second half of both games to put their opponents away, which has become a team trademark.
"We just went on one of those Arizona runs," freshman guard Jawann McClellan said after the Utah State win. "I had a player come up to me after the game and say, 'We heard about your runs, but they just come so quickly.'"
Both shooting numbers are good overall, but in both games the team got off to a slow start.
Against Utah State, the Wildcats missed six of their first eight shots and seven of their first nine against UAB.
Oklahoma State gets off to slow starts itself.
In Sunday's game against No. 7 Southern Illinois, the Cowboys trailed by seven at halftime, only to come back in the second half to win 85-77.
If the Wildcats can get off to an early start, they may be able to hold off a similar second-half charge by the Cowboys.
Defense dynamite so far
Defensively in Boise, the Wildcats played arguably as well as they have all year.
In the second half of each game, the Wildcats held their opponents to under 30 percent shooting: 26.7 percent against Utah State, 27.3 percent against UAB. Overall, USU shot 36.4 percent from the floor, and UAB shot 32.8 percent.
"They are long and they are quick," USU head coach Stew Morrill said about the Wildcats. "It's a challenge to try to score against that caliber of size and quickness."
Arizona blocked six shots against USU and seven against UAB.
"I think we played great team defense. I think we tasted it," Frye said after the UAB game. "We wanted to go to Chicago and the Sweet 16 so bad."
Reinforcements for Channing, Salim
Several players shared the scoring load this weekend when center Frye or guard Stoudamire couldn't score.
Frye scored six points in the UAB game, going 3-for-5 from the floor, an off-game partially because of foul trouble.
Junior forward Hassan Adams stepped up to score 16 points and grab 10 rebounds, and the bench players scored 22 points.
Stoudamire and Frye each scored a team-high 17 points against USU, and junior guard Chris Rodgers came off the bench and chipped in 10 points in 13 minutes. Rodgers hit baskets in the middle of the first half to keep the Wildcats close to the Aggies when the two teams were still battling back and forth for the lead.
"I think it's great. It shows the depth of our team, which we didn't have last year," said sophomore center Kirk Walters, who chipped in eight points and three rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench Saturday. "Now we have it and (this) shows how much more effective we can be with it."