Men's Hoops: Cats surge toward St. Louis

By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, March 21, 2005

Wildcats get good wins, potatoes on Idaho trip

BOISE, Idaho - The Land of Potatoes has hosted seven NCAA Tournaments, including this year's first and second rounds.

But Boise is not just a mecca for those interested in french fries and latkes. It's the place where UCLA guard Tyus Edney's coast-to-coast drive against Missouri captivated the college basketball nation.

It's the place where No. 15 Hampton upset No. 2 Iowa State in 2001. It's the place where Ralph Sampson and his Virginia team dominated opponents.

It's also the place where the Arizona men's basketball team is 4-0 in tournament play.

So why is Boise such a hotbed for hoops?

Despite the hometown school, Boise State, not having made it to the NCAA Tournament since 1994, fans from both the area and around the country pack Taco Bell Center to full capacity. The madness of the NCAA Tournament turns a quiet city of fewer than 200,000 into a bustling metropolis of media, tournament officials and spectators.

Players like being here too, even more so after getting two wins.

"There's not too many distractions," Arizona senior center Channing Frye said.

The Arizona team stayed at the Red Lion Inn in downtown Boise, and while the town offers a variety of activities, the players were focused more on getting their rest.

"If you want to go out, there's beautiful weather, nice little mountains, a squirrel or two," Frye said. "But mostly we've been so tired we've been sleeping every day. Boise has awesome beds."

While Frye is a veteran of preparing for the tournament, the Arizona freshmen have followed his lead with their habits on the road.

"Watch film, get some rest and be ready for tomorrow," freshman guard Jesus Verdejo said of his plans the day before facing the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Freshman guard Daniel Dillon, who hails from Australia, knew the tournament was going to be a big deal, but he didn't sense the magnitude of the event.

"I've never seen anything like this coming from Australia, where basketball isn't the No. 1 sport," he said.

Freshman forward Brett Brielmaier had a different perspective of the tournament growing up in Minnesota. He and his friends filled out the bracket in high school and watched the games unfold.

"I watched tons of games. We used to watch them in class," he said. "But I had no idea it was like this just the intensity and the atmosphere."

Traveling to Boise was not a short trip for Arizona fans, who came out in small amounts but nevertheless made some noise. A few hundred loyal Wildcat fans were on hand to watch games on Thursday and Saturday, and the players were appreciative of the support.

"We want to thank everyone for coming out to the fabulous land of potatoes," Frye said.

Dillon was even more impressed with the traveling party from Tucson.

"Having people travel all the way from Arizona to Boise, Idaho, to come watch a game is kind of cool," he said.

Boise has been good not only to the Wildcats but also to the Pacific 10 Conference.

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar pointed out that if it wasn't for Edney's shot in Boise, he and assistant coach Cameron Dollar might not be in the position they are in today.

The Huskies, who also played in Boise this year, went 2-0 on their way to the Sweet 16.

In the end, the Wildcats learned a few things in Boise.

They learned they have the ability to beat teams at any tempo, and also the focus to play tough teams away from home. They learned that Boise is pronounced "Boi-see" and not "Boi-zee," Frye said.

And of course, you can't forget those famous potatoes.

"The potatoes were solid. I didn't have enough last night. That's why I didn't dunk on anybody," Frye said. "They helped my attitude. The potatoes here are massively good."

The players didn't get to see much of Boise, but they were able to get out and eat during their day off, and Frye wasn't the only one who got a boost out of the potatoes.

"They do have very nice potatoes," sophomore forward Kirk Walters said. "I was surprised. We had dinner one of the days, and they were great potatoes."

Ultimately, the trip was about more than potatoes, and the time Arizona players spend together on the road benefits them on the court.

"I had no complaints," junior forward Hassan Adams said of Boise. "We went to a grill place, got something to eat, watched the games as a team. It's about business. It's a business trip."