By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 28, 2005
In last season's 78-60 road loss to Virginia, the Arizona men's basketball team struggled from the field, making only 39.7 percent of its shots, and the Wildcats' remaining seniors remembered that game vividly last night in a rematch in McKale Center.
On a chilly night in Tucson, Arizona shot colder than the air outside for the first 20 minutes, before torching McKale Center like it was in the midst of a summer heat wave for the final 20.
A woeful 37.1-percent shooting effort in the first half turned into a "Hoosiers"-esque 66.7-percent second-half effort, as senior guard Chris Rodgers and company suddenly found the shooting stroke they had been lacking for the season's first 3 1/2 games en route to a 81-51 victory.
"We had to pay them back for what they did to us last year, so that was the feeling at the start of the second half," said senior forward Isaiah Fox.
Arizona head coach Lute Olson recalled last year's trip to the East Coast, which included the Virginia game as well as the preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden, as similar to this year's start in terms of shooting performance.
"We were shooting the ball horribly," he said. "But more because of shot selection and taking the quick shot."
After suffering from the field in the first half, Olson told players at the break to realize the difference between good shots and bad shots, and ultimately that was the difference in the game.
Arizona shot just 1-of-13 on 3-pointers in the first half, but came back to shoot 5-of-6 in the second.
Rodgers, who fired five blanks from beyond the arc before intermission, hit all three of his 3-pointers afterward.
"I just kind of got hot a little bit," said Rodgers, who ended up with 20 points, 15 in the second half. "I had good looks in the first half - unfortunately, they just didn't fall. But as a shooter, I just continue to know I'm going to make the next one."
The concern in Rodgers' mind at halftime was not about the shooting, but rather the intensity the team seemed to lack on the floor.
"We tend to come out a little sluggish and I just wanted to set the tone defensively. ... I wanted to be the general out there and get the crowd into it," he said.
That toughness helped not only create 24 turnovers, but also helped develop an offensive rhythm by giving the Wildcats a chance to score some easy buckets.
Arizona shot just 36.1 percent in its three games at the EA Sports Maui Invitational in Hawaii last week, and players were determined not to let the bad shooting go to their heads.
"If we're playing a good defensive game, then the shots will fall, and we're going to start getting easy ones," said senior guard Hassan Adams.
With 17:22 left in the second half, and Arizona in the midst of a 29-1 run, in which it held Virginia to no field goals for nearly 11 minutes, Fox dove for a loose ball.
Junior point guard Mustafa Shakur came up with it and threw an alley-oop pass to Adams, who sent down a dunk that raised the 14,570 in attendance to their feet.
"That was like a game-changing play," Shakur said. "We got the crowd behind us, and I know that whenever we get a great play like that, especially out of Hassan or Chris Rodgers, we become energized, and we're so pumped that we want to do it again. So when we get back on the defensive end, we're trying to get another stop."