Men's Hoops: History on side of '05 seniors as UA makes last push for St. Louis

By Kyle Kensing
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, March 24, 2005

One-hundred one, seven and two.

These numbers are the total wins, NCAA Tournament wins and Pacific 10 Conference titles the Arizona basketball team has amassed in Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire's four years with the program.

However, unless the dynamic senior duo can add two more to the first two columns in this weekend's Chicago Regional, zero will be another figure Frye and Stoudamire will be remembered for - as in the amount of trips they have made to the Final Four.

Frye, a 6-foot-11 center and Arizona's second all-time career shot blocker and third rebounder, said making the 2005 Final Four is the team's primary goal.

"I really try not to think about not making (the Final Four)," he said. "(Salim and I) take a lot of pride in the winning tradition."

Since the Wildcats first reached in college basketball's premiere round in 1988, only two senior classes (1992 and 1993) went four years without a Final Four appearance.

The Arizona classes to never make it to the NCAA pinnacle were not without stars.

Former Wildcat greats Chris Mills, Sean Rooks, Matt Othick and the late Brian Williams all rank in the top 10 in at least one UA statistical category, yet never went any further than the Sweet 16.

Stoudamire, like Frye, has cracked into the Arizona record books this season, setting the school's all-time record for 3-pointers made just last week.

But Frye said individual marks don't matter to either senior, as their collective focus is on the success of the team.

Another significant statistic in Frye's eyes is that of four former Arizona high school Players of the Year to play under Lute Olson, the three prior all made it to a Final Four.

They were Sean Elliott in 1988, Mike Bibby in 1997 and Richard Jefferson in 2001.

"(Reaching the Final Four) is especially important, not only from the U of A tradition, but for being one of four players from (Arizona)," Frye said. "I would be the only one not to go."

The realization of the Wildcats'

ultimate goal, a fifth program Final Four and second NCAA championship, is one that will not come easy.

Arizona's Regional Semifinal opponent, Oklahoma State, comes into Chicago with a 26-6 record and the experience of appearing in last year's Final Four.

Arizona head coach Lute Olson said tonight's contest would be "a matchup of two outstanding teams."

Olson said despite OSU's Final Four experience, Arizona has equal experience.

"We had a good opportunity to face two different type teams (in the first two rounds). We feel we have as good a chance as anybody," he said.

Olson also spoke Monday of the importance of the seniors to the Wildcats' chances.

"(Stoudamire)'s the all-time career leader in 3-pointers made, (but) no one will be able to replace him in the defensive category," he said.

Olson called Stoudamire the best defender he's coached over a four-year time span, adding he draws opposition's top scorers on a routine basis.

This weekend that means facing OSU guards John Lucas and Joey Graham, and in the event of a win, possibly top-seeded Illinois' Dee Brown and Luther Head.

Olson said in his time at Arizona, Stoudamire has become better able to play his game even when his shots aren't falling.

"With Salim, the worst thing about him is he's a perfectionist," he said. "Now when he goes out and plays, he goes out there to have fun."

Stoudamire agreed with Olson Monday and said he didn't feel any pressure coming into the OSU matchup because basketball's a game.

Stoudamire and Frye's four years of service to Arizona basketball will have a lasting mark on the program, but Frye said it's important to seal that legacy with a Final Four berth, though he's undeterred by expectations.

"(Getting to the Final Four) is just one of the expectations you take on at U of A, it's a part of the tradition," he said.