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Cats showing comfort in new offense

Claire C. Laurence/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Junior guard Mustafa Shakur deflects an Oregon layup off the backboard during Arizona's win over the Ducks on Feb. 17. Shakur and freshman point guard J.P. Prince have contended against each other during the team's preseason practices.
By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 28, 2005
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Arizona men's basketball head coach Lute Olson runs demanding practices, but he's liked what he's seen from the Wildcats in the last two weeks.

Players have had only two days off since practice began Oct. 15 and still have some time to go before Wednesday's Pepsi Red/Blue Game.

"We've been very happy with the amount of effort and enthusiasm the guys have shown," Olson said yesterday in a press conference.

Olson said the biggest adjustment this year has been the much-talked-about offense, which features four players on the perimeter and only one big man inside.

Redshirt senior forward Isaiah Fox and sophomore forward Bret Brielmaier have played both the inside and outside positions, while junior center Kirk Walters and sophomore center Mohamed Tangara have been used strictly in the post. Junior forward Ivan Radenovic will be used mainly on the perimeter.

"We've spent a lot of time on the offense," Olson said. "The intent is to spread the court a little more and open driving lanes to utilize our quickness."

Olson said he believes the area around the basket will be more open, and teams' efforts to deny passes will result in a lot of back-door pass opportunities leading to easy baskets. Ball movement and spacing will still be crucial, he said.

On the defensive end, the team has worked on pressuring the ball in the full-court, three-quarter-court and half-court schemes, he said, adding that next week the team will focus on set plays as well as zone offenses and defenses.

"It's more for us to work against zones," Olson said. "I don't know how much we'll use the zones. We've been primarily man-to-man teams, but we've thrown it in there as a change of pace."

The Wildcats have four freshmen this season, and Olson has mixed them in with the veterans.

He said when coaches have pitted the younger guys versus the older guys, the practices have been blowouts, so everyone will get an opportunity to showcase their abilities playing with upperclassmen.

"It's a big adjustment to freshmen because they're not used to the intensity of practice situations, so that's always going to be an adjustment, but we certainly are not disappointed with their efforts," Olson said.

Junior guard Mustafa Shakur and freshman guard J.P. Prince have been matched up against each other for the majority of practices, but Olson has played them together a few times and said they played well.

However, he prefers Prince to play against Shakur because he thinks Prince can learn a lot from the more experienced guard.

Effort on boards determining Red/Blue Game starters

The starting lineups for the Red/Blue Game will be based on rebounding during practice, a traditional Olson motivational tactic.

Thus far, Tangara is the leading rebounder in practice, followed closely behind by senior forward Hassan Adams and Radenovic, Olson said.

Radenovic, who had to fight his way into the starting lineup last season, now feels at home as a power forward on the outside, but he is still hitting the boards defensively.

"He feels more comfortable being given freedom in the offense," Olson said.

Injury report

Senior guard Chris Rodgers, who was first told he'd be out four to eight weeks with a sprained right knee, was cleared for full contact practice last week, but didn't participate in contact drills until Wednesday, Olson said.

Before that, he worked only in noncontact situations and rehabilitated with team trainer Justin Kokoskie.

"What we've been doing is working him in a little at a time," Olson said. "He worked with us on the press offense, so that was good to see."

Sophomore guard Jawann McClellan (tendonitis) might be done at least through the Red/Blue Game, as doctors have told him to cease playing.

McClellan injured his Achilles tendon in March's Elite Eight loss to Illinois, and the injury has lingered since.

McClellan, who is academically ineligible for the fall semester, has been wearing a protective boot, but said he was in a lot of pain after McKale Madness on Oct. 14, in which he did not play.

"With him not playing (until December), the orthopedic people and our trainer feel it would be best for him to take an extended period of time off right now," Olson said. "I would assume that probably next week, they'll probably give him the clearance to go."

Freshman forward Fendi Onobun has had problems with an ankle injury, Olson said, but will be back at full strength Monday.

The Wildcats have had other minor injuries, including Adams missing a few days, but Olson said that the team is healthy for the most part.

"We should be pretty much at full strength for the Red/Blue Game," he said.

Arizona will open up tomorrow's practice to the public and will hold a Special Olympics clinic afterward.

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