By Roman Veytsman
CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior guard Salim Stoudamire goes up for a dunk over USC's Lodrick Stewart in McKale Center Jan. 13. Stoudamire's presence will be missed next season, as he broke a host of school records in his senior year.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, March 31, 2005
It may not have had a dream ending, but the 2004-2005 season was an enjoyable ride for the Arizona men's basketball team.
For the second time in three years, the ride ended in the Elite Eight in heartbreaking fashion.
Unlike last season, the team played up to its potential and sustained chemistry throughout the year.
"I couldn't even tell you about the chemistry last year," senior center Channing Frye said. "There wasn't any."
There were distractions this season, such as the suspensions of guards Salim Stoudamire and Chris Rodgers for a game each and the demotion of junior forward Isaiah Fox and the emergence of Kirk Walters.
Some played better than expected, like freshman guard Jawann McClellan and sophomore forward Ivan Radenovic, while sophomore point guard Mustafa Shakur didn't quite reach the success many expected from him.
In the end, though, the team bond became stronger. The result was the team's third 30-win season and another Pacific 10 Conference regular-season crown.
"We went through ups and downs," junior forward Hassan Adams said. "Everybody was a family on this team. We loved each other."
As the year went along, the coaches sensed improvements not only from individuals, but also from the entire team.
"We got better and better and better," assistant coach Josh Pastner said.
Before losing 90-89 in overtime Saturday to Illinois, the Wildcats won 13 of their last 15 games.
Led by a duo of seniors in Stoudamire and Frye, whose personalities were as contrasting as those of Barry Bonds and former San Diego Padres legend Tony Gwynn, Arizona meshed just in time to make a run at the national championship.
Stoudamire became part of the team after three years of battles with the coaching staff and of getting acclimated to his teammates. When Stoudamire began hanging out with his teammates and going to lunch with Frye, the team and Stoudamire took off on the court.
"We got great production from the seniors," Pastner said.
KEVIN B. KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior center Channing Frye grabs a rebound in Arizona's second round win against Alabama-Birmingham. Frye is only the third player in Arizona history to pull down 900 rebounds.
Stoudamire was named second team All-America by The Associated Press and was named one of 10 players to the Wooden All-America list.
Stoudamire leaves Arizona in the top 10 in a load of statistical categories, including fourth in scoring, second in 3-point percentage and first in 3-point field goals made.
Meanwhile, Frye leaves second all-time in blocked shots and third in rebounding, becoming the only third Arizona player with 900 rebounds.
Frye and Stoudamire, both of whom were four-year starters, leave fourth and fifth, respectively, in games started.
Aside from the seniors, Adams, the team's third-leading scorer, took his game to a different level, switching positions from power forward to a wing spot.
Although his numbers went down in the regular season, Adams was instrumental in four NCAA Tournament games, raising his leadership role as well as his numbers.
Radenovic and Walters were the most improved players on the team.
Radenovic, who joined the team last spring, averaged 8.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game this year.
Coming in, Radenovic's talent was obvious, but he had trouble adjusting to the speed of the game and the physicality of play in the post.
After a semester of experience, Radenovic came back with extra muscle and more confidence to bang with the Pac-10 big men.
Walters, surprisingly, came out of redshirt status midway through the season and showed the improvement he made in the offseason as well as his extra 25 pounds of bulk.
Walters became the first big man off the bench, receiving 10.6 minutes per game and scoring a career-high eight points in the team's second-round NCAA tournament game against Alabama-Birmingham.
"We pride ourselves on player development," Pastner said.
Much of the talk during the beginning of the season was the team's added depth, which included the addition of five freshmen.
Head coach Lute Olson stuck with an eight-man rotation during the NCAA Tournament, but allowed Arizona fans to see some of the future during the regular season.
Freshman forward Mohamed Tangara redshirted, and freshmen Daniel Dillon and Bret Brielmaier received little court time, but McClellan and freshman guard Jesus Verdejo showed flashes of brilliance.
Verdejo played in 26 games and exhibited his athletic ability and his tenacity on the defensive end of the court.
McClellan was part of the rotation all year long and gave Arizona a reliable scorer and defender off the bench.
The depth was a key factor because practices became so intense, Pastner said, they were "sometimes more competitive than games."
The 2004-2005 season also saw two Olson milestones.
The Legend of Tucson surpassed the Legend of Westwood in Pac-10 victories and also coached in his 1,000th game as a head coach at any level.
Olson won 20 games for the 18th consecutive year and took the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament for the 21st consecutive year, the longest active streak in the country and the second-longest streak all-time.
Arizona finished No.9 in the regular season AP and ESPN/USA Today coaches' polls and has been ranked in 303 consecutive regular-season polls.
The Wildcats maintained their reputation as the best and most consistent team in the West, and though they fell short of the Final Four, no one in the program is calling the season a failure.
"We had a good season," Adams said. "It's not the end of the world."