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Cardinal loom for Wildcats

By Shane bacon
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 19, 2006
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As the men's basketball team takes the floor against Stanford at 8:30 tonight in McKale Center, they will be trying to do more than pick up a win.

They will be looking to stop a conference skid that hasn't been seen in more than two decades in the contest televised by FSN.

That task will be made harder by the dismissal of senior guard Chris Rodgers from the team yesterday, which Arizona men's basketball head coach Lute Olson announced in a statement.

The Wildcats (10-6, 3-3 Pacific 10 Conference) haven't begun a conference season this badly since 1984-85, when Arizona started 3-3.

Freshman forward Marcus Williams said that nobody wants to play on the team that is the black sheep of recent years.

"No one wants to be part of that program that people say falls off, but as a team we just need to put it behind us," he said.

With a home stand that includes Stanford (7-6, 3-2) and California (9-5, 3-2), junior point guard Mustafa Shakur said that the team is optimistic about the games to come and realize that this isn't the time to get down.

"I'm not frustrated at all because if you're frustrated, you shouldn't play basketball because things happen," he said. "I'm not frustrated, so I just come out and work and try to get the outcome we want, which is a win."

With the Wildcats dropping three of their last four games, however, the team has identified some of the problems that need changing.

"I think we have to have better help defense," Shakur said. "It's getting a little too easy for guys to get easy lay-ups and easy baskets, period. There isn't a lot of team defense down there."

The defense, which was the core of the team as the year began, has struggled in the three conference losses, but Olson pointed out that on the Oregon trip many of those shots were just tough to guard.

"In looking at the tapes, if you take a look at the shots they got from three, there were not many open shots," Olson said. "There were a lot of those that were under unbelievable pressure."

Olson said he didn't feel the defense was the problem in the losses but rather the defensive rebounding.

He also pointed out that most Pac-10 teams take their game to the next level when facing Arizona, which has been at the top of the conference for almost two decades.

"I think that is something that probably some of our younger guys don't understand is that you're going to see everybody's best effort, and that is a compliment to the program but is also a challenge to our guys," Olson said.

With a conference that seems bundled at the top, the Wildcats are still preaching the fact that the crown is anyone's to take.

"At this point there are 12 games left," Shakur said. "It is still anybody's championship in my opinion because if we would have won (against Oregon), we'd be at the top of the Pac-10, so it's still anybody's right now."

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