Recuperating Wildcats visit former powerhouse Houston

By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, December 2, 2005

After almost a week off to ponder its troubles on offense, the No.15 Arizona men's basketball team travels to Texas to take on Houston tomorrow at 5 p.m. at Hofheinz Pavillion. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

The Wildcats (2-2) have struggled with hitting their shots early in the season, with the exception being the second half Sunday night against Virginia (66.7 field-goal percentage), when Arizona showed glimpses of a renewed shooting touch.

Shooting less than 40 percent from the field this season, Arizona has made its mark on defense, forcing 94 turnovers in four games and holding opponents to just a 23.7 percent clip from behind the arc.

"(We're) just hard-nosed, get in your face, get turnovers, get teams out of their comfort zone. That's basically what we're trying to do," said senior guard Hassan Adams, who is second on the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game.

Arizona has performed considerably better in the second halves of their first four games, outscoring opponents 149-104, prompting senior guard Chris Rodgers to call the Wildcats a "second-half team" after the Virginia game.

As Arizona tries to shed that image in favor of a more offensive balance, the team's shot selection will be one of the main factors.

"I think we need to take the same shots in the second half that we take in the first half, not settling for 3's all the time, and that would make us not a second-half team," said junior point guard Mustafa Shakur. "We'd be able to play both halves. In the first half, we tend to take a lot of shots that we don't need to take and (in the) second half, we correct our mistakes."

The Wildcats also started out slowly on offense last year (61 points or fewer in the team's first five games), and Adams said he doesn't mind playing low-scoring games.

"We're not worried about that," he said. "If we score 70 and beat somebody by 30, that's all that matters to me, just as long as we get the 'W.'"

Although Adams has scored 58 percent of his points in the second half, he said he thinks it's only a matter of time before Arizona plays a complete game.

"I don't consider us a second-half team," Adams said. "It looks like that now because we're gradually knocking out the kinks, but we're going to be ready from the start (tomorrow)."

Shakur had arguably his most complete game of his career against the Cavaliers, finishing with 14 points, six rebounds and seven assists in 21 minutes.

"I think Maui (last week) was good for me because I saw what I wasn't doing. I wasn't being aggressive," Shakur said. "I was just coming down running the offense and trying to move the ball. We took a lot of bad shots, but I looked at it as, I have to get in the lane and get people involved and be more aggressive because that's what I'm good at." Rodgers leads the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game and is second on the team in assists (3.0).

He also serves as the team's top perimeter defender, often drawing the toughest matchup from opposing teams.

Arizona head coach Lute Olson said he's been impressed with the team's demeanor following the poor shooting efforts.

"If you look through the years, the key to our program has been defense," Olson said.

"It's great to see our guys responding to the fact that they know that by getting out and getting after people like we're doing, it's going to make us a better team because it's obvious we haven't been shooting it well."

After missing Sunday's game because of food poisoning, junior forward Ivan Radenovic will re-gain his spot in the starting lineup, joining Rodgers, Shakur, Adams and junior center Kirk Walters. Radenovic is averaging 9.3 points per game along with 5.3 rebounds.

Sophomore forward Bret Brielmaier started in Radenovic's place and has averaged 2 points and 2.8 rebounds while wowing with his hustle and determination on both ends of the floor, Olson said.

This will mark the first meeting between Arizona and Houston since 1995, when the Wildcats defeated the Cougars 73-69.

If Arizona hopes to repeat that success, it may need another strong second half to put away the up-and-coming Cougars (2-1), who defeated No. 25 LSU 84-83 on Tuesday in Baton Rouge, La.

"We need to play as a team and keep our defensive intensity throughout the whole game," said freshman forward Marcus Williams. "Just pick up and become one unit offensively and defensively, which was most successful in the second half of the Michigan State (game Nov. 22) and the second half of (the) Virginia (game)."