By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, December 12, 2005
The No.25 Arizona basketball team scraped out two wins on Thursday and Saturday over Northern Arizona 75-66 and St Mary’s 73-61, respectively, albeit in unconvincing fashion. Arizona has continuously struggled to shoot the ball and played poorly in each of the first halves, getting outscored by four points, combined, but stepped up its defensive intensity to overcome a 36.3 percent first half field goal percentage. Against St. Mary’s the Wildcats failed to make a 3-point field goal, going 0-10, for the first time since March 21, 2003, when Arizona went 0-8 in a win over Mississippi at the NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal in San Antonio.
“Way too many 3-point attempts again, head coach Lute Olson said after the St. Mary’s game. “We’re not a 3-point shooting team and we can’t continue shooting (outside) shots, (unless) it’s a wide open shot and it’s caught and shot in rhythm, that’s one thing, but it’s killing us.”
Senior guard Hassan Adams was stellar, however, in the second half of both games, scoring 15 and 18 in the second half of consecutive games, en route to a team-leading average of 24 points a game last week.
“Hassan had a really good second half which has unfortunately been his pattern of miserable first halves and great second halves. We need 40 minutes out of him,” Olson said.
“If it’s up to me, I’m not going to let us lose,” Adams said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes, defense, scoring, rebounding, you got to leave it on the court.”
After the St. Mary’s win, Olson had high praise for Adams’ effort.
Hassan gave us the best complete game he’s given us all year long,” Olson said. “That means not just how he played but how he led in the locker room before the game, on the court, at timeouts, at halftime and that’s what we need.”
Adams also averaged eight rebounds per game and shot over 50 percent (17-32).
In the Northern Arizona game, junior point guard Mustafa Shakur was saddled with foul trouble throughout the game, playing just 12 minutes before fouling out, after which he also picked up a technical foul. Freshman point guard J.P. Prince came to the rescue dishing out 10 assists against only one turnover.
“Coach always tells me to get the ball to the scorers and be smart with it,” Prince said. “He says as long as you’re smart with the ball, make the right decisions, and take the right shots, and (assistant) coach Josh (Pastner) tells me ‘don’t be a freshman, you’re not a freshman. He’s always telling me to play like I’m supposed to be to reach the next level, and that’s how I play every night as a point guard.”
Senior guard Chris Rodgers did not play in the second half of the NAU game after shooting 2-9 from the field in the first half, all on 3-pointers. Olson said the offense did not concern him, but it was the defense that gave Rodgers a seat on the bench.
“He should be one of our best defensive players, and he was not in the first half,” Olson said. “It wasn’t because he was missing shots because those shots were good shots.”
Rodgers came back in the St. Mary’s game, although he did not start because he had a final on Friday and was unable to attend practice, according to Olson. He played 22 minutes, had three assists and two steals, while disrupting the Gaels offense.
“He’ll get out and make the guy with the ball fight for his life and he did that,” Olson said. “That’s where defense starts is on the ball out front.”
St Mary’s jumped out to 34-27 lead at halftime but Arizona came out in the second half energized and went on a 19-7 run in the first nine minutes of the half. Freshman forward Marcus Williams impressed again, scoring 14 points in his second career start.
“Whatever situation coach puts me in, I just try to adapt to it and be ready for it,” Williams said.
Williams also scored 17 points off the bench against NAU on 8-14 from the field.
Junior forward Ivan Radenovic had a double double against NAU, (14 and 11), while shutting down St. Mary’s star Daniel Kickert, holding the senior who averaged over 20 points per game coming in, to only 7 points on 2-12 from the field and zero in the first half.
“I commented to the team about Ivan doing a great job and he said ‘We did a great job, we all did a great job,’” Olson said. (Kickert) is not the kind of player that one guy is going to stop. No matter where he turned there was somebody there. We didn’t get fooled by his faking and getting up in the air. We stayed down and made it tough for him to make shots.”
The Wildcats forced 24 turnovers and are averaging 22.0 turnovers per the game this season. Arizona is shooting 40.0 percent through seven games.
Arizona next plays at Utah on December 17th.
Sophomore guard Jesus Verdejo, who is red-shirting this season will transfer to the University of Miami. “Jesus was a great addition to the program and a fine teammate,” Olson said in a released statement. “He wanted to be closer to home and we support him in that decision.” Verdejo averaged 2.3 points in 26 games last season.