By Roman Veytsman
MATT ROBLES/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Sophomore center Kirk Walters is next in line to take on the role of Arizona big man on the court. Walters scored a career-high eight points during Arizona's second-round win over UAB Saturday.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Sophomore forward Kirk Walters has been labeled a protégé, understudy, pupil, apprentice and anything else Channing Frye seems to like.
Walters rose out of Frye's shadow and showed flashes of his own dominance Saturday in Arizona's 85-63 win over the University of Alabama-Birmingham as Frye watched from the bench, pleased that his trainee demonstrated what he has learned.
"The understudy, that sounds good," Frye said, smiling. "Protégé is a good little word for it, too."
Walters scored a career-high eight points and pulled down three rebounds in 14 minutes. He was also credited with one blocked shot, but he altered at least five other shot attempts.
While Frye was ineffective for the most part, thanks to foul trouble and the pace of the game, Walters came in and played as if a fire was lit under him.
"Kirk is such a talented player; he doesn't understand how athletic he is sometimes," Frye said. "I think he kind of took advantage of that today."
Because of UAB's pressure defense, the Wildcats were forced to use their big men to get the ball to the frontcourt.
Walters was instrumental in achieving that success in the press break.
"With a game like this, where it's going to be so up and down, and they're a quick team, I kind of thought I would have to step in there and try to do what I could," he said.
Walters came into the game early, with more than 14 minutes left to play in the first half, but he did not make an immediate impact. Before he was even able to attempt a shot, Walters picked up two fouls and a turnover.
But things got better for him in a hurry. All it took were a few words from assistant coach Josh Pastner, who works primarily with the Arizona big men.
"After I threw that one turnover, Josh said, 'Don't rush it, hold on to it and hand it off if you have to,'" Walters said.
Two possessions after the turnover, Walters came down, took a pass from point guard Mustafa Shakur and jammed it with both hands while being fouled. Walters missed the free throw, but the play set the tone for his aggressiveness throughout the game.
"If you tell him to be aggressive, he's going to try to be aggressive," junior forward Hassan Adams said. "He's the most improved player, hands down, on our team this year, and it's because he put in the work and the effort."
In the second half, Walters played nine minutes and made two more layups to go with two free throws.
In one defensive sequence, Walters swatted away a shot by Ernest Little, after fellow sophomore Ivan Radenovic blocked Donnell Taylor.
The Arizona big men did not allow easy UAB layups, blocking seven shots and putting a stamp on the overall defensive effort.
"Kirk Walters gave us 14 quality minutes in the middle," head coach Lute Olson said. "Not only scoring some, but the big thing was his shot-blocking and his challenging of shots when they (the UAB Blazers) did come to the inside."
Walters has come a long way in a short period of time, after spending the first half of the season as a redshirt.
Being thrust into the lineup and asked to contribute was not an easy task, but time has worn on and Walters has gained experience.
The Wildcats can now rely on him as the first big man off the bench, and with his play Saturday, Walters has made believers out of more than just his teammates.
"I think he's been growing a lot," Frye said. "We need to believe in him for him to believe in himself."
The faith in Walters started with Olson's decision to play Walters in the middle of this, his redshirt year, in a decision that originally caught Walters by surprise. Skepticism arose at first, but Walters' progress and his increased role on the team have made those skeptics, as well as himself, into believers.
When asked if he would trade this experience for the first half of the year back, Walters chuckled and said, "Oh, yeah. Definitely."