By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, March 24, 2005
The last time Arizona and Oklahoma State met, the Cowboys had a big man named Big Country Reeves on their team. This year, the Cowboys have less of a country and more of a collection of states.
Oklahoma State features four senior starters with Final Four experience, three of who average double figures in points.
Oklahoma State's run to the Final Four last year gives it more tournament experience than the Wildcats, but Arizona head coach Lute Olson thinks the edge ends there.
"I really don't feel like there is a big advantage from the maturity standpoint for them over us," Olson said.
The Cowboys were able to use their experience to overcome upset-minded Southern Illinois in the second round.
"They just don't give up," said freshman guard Jawann McClellan after watching the Cowboys play. "They're a very experienced team and they just keep fighting."
In that game, Oklahoma State showed what makes it such a dangerous team for any opponent.
The Cowboys shot 54.3 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point range and 87.9 percent from the free-throw line. This season, they were in the nation's top 10 in all three categories, shooting almost 50 percent from the field as a team.
The Cowboys are able to slow the tempo as coach Eddie Sutton likes to do, but they also have the talent to run the fast break, averaging 78.3 points per game.
"They're a slow team but JamesOn Curry and (John) Lucas are both fast in their own ways," McClellan said.
Curry, a freshman who originally committed to North Carolina but was denied a scholarship for off-court reasons, is the only non-senior that receives significant minutes. He is fourth on the team in scoring (9.4 points per game) and has given the Cowboys a lift since being inserted into the starting lineup.
When the Cowboys do slow it down and run their half-court offense, they rely on talented but undersized forwards Ivan McFarlin and third-team AP All-American Joey Graham.
Graham, who didn't reach double figures in scoring in either of his first two tournament games because of foul trouble, is the Cowboys' second-leading scorer and rebounder.
While Graham didn't overwhelm anyone with his play, McFarlin stepped up with 31 points in the second round and has led the team in scoring in both tournament games.
"I'm going to have to go out there and play the best defense and try to be a presence in there," said senior center Channing Frye of McFarlin.
The Cowboys' leading scorer and playmaker is point guard John Lucas, who controls the team's offensive destiny.
"If you look at their overall style of game, I think they're pretty good when they're in the open court. They have a great point guard," Frye said.
Lucas can push it up and hit Curry cutting to the basket or kick it out to Daniel Bobik, the Cowboys top threat from 3-point range.
"Bobik is a real good spot-up shooter. He's very smart," Frye said.
Defensively, Oklahoma State is a physical man-to-man team, something the Wildcats have yet to face in the tournament.
But Arizona has faced teams using almost every style of play this season, and Olson believes the Wildcats will be ready for the Cowboys' style.
"We have a pretty good handle on what we're going to face. We have a lot of tapes and we feel like we're prepared for what they do," he said.
Arizona's more finesse-driven approach contrasts with Oklahoma State's rough-and-tumble nature, and Frye believes the Wildcats must avoid getting sucked into the Cowboys' preferences.
"We can't get caught up in battling and wrestling, not to say they're going to do it, but sometimes a physical game gets like that," he said.
The physicality will have to make for a lack of size, as McFarlin is the tallest starter on the team at 6-foot-8 and will have to guard the 6-foot-11 Frye.
"I don't think they have a key for Channing," McClellan said.
Be that as it may, the Cowboys' key opened the door to last year's Final Four, and they will try to open the lock once more.