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Knauer's Korner: Debating the real issues... of UA sports

Tom Knauer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
By Tom Knauer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, October 6, 2004
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With Election Day approaching and the candidates having polished their final scripts, debate season is officially in full swing. In a world of innumerable facts, fictions and trivial Top 10 lists, sports fans can already count themselves well adapted.

So, as a Wildcat and a registered voter, it seems downright bipartisan of me to address and argue a few issues concerning the fall UA sports schedule that still may circulate through the minds of undecided students.

Will the men's golf team fulfill its preseason expectations?

Through the last week of September, the situation seemed grim. Does a real top-30 team stumble to finishes of ninth or worse place in its first two tournaments of the year? Does such a talented golfer as Henry Liaw move his way up the leaderboard (i.e. his fourth-place overall standing after the second round of The Preview in September) and stumble in equally Tiger-like fashion by the end (he finished tied for 27th)? There I go again. What we need to remember is that for his fine club work, Liaw isn't the only man anchoring this squad. Senior Nathan Lashley had a career-high seventh-place finish at the William H. Tucker Invitational Sunday, as Arizona won its first tournament of the season. Though Liaw carded a final-round 74 after days of 67 and 68, respectively, his efforts were more than buoyed by those of Lashley (6-under 66 on day one) and fellow senior Nick Juszczak (an even-par 72 after the final hole).

As Arizona's leaders go, so will the team. If Liaw, Lashley and Juszczak can hold things down while another young roster develops, the team could surpass its average of four tournament wins in each of the last two seasons - an impressive achievement given the group's offseason losses.

Will the women's soccer team take its miraculous start deep into the playoffs?

With its 1-0 win over Colorado College Sunday, Arizona set a team record for wins in a season (9). Moreover, they did it in record-breaking fashion, as freshman goalkeeper McCall Smith notched her school-record seventh shutout of the season.

Such early success, however, may become moot once the Wildcats meet Washington State Friday. The match begins Arizona's Pacific 10 Conference schedule, which includes dates against No. 16 Stanford, No. 10 California and No. 7 UCLA, and may be the start of a detour for a spectacular team performance thus far.

To keep the ball rolling, Arizona must keep its emotions in check, much as it did against the Tigers after losing to No. 25 Pepperdine the day before. The team showed resilience, dominating after a scoreless first half. If that pattern continues, players such as senior Lindsey Peeples, junior Jennifer Klein and Smith will take their teammates along for what may become a true success story.

Will the football team find a way to finish its games?

In a season that began in such textbook fashion against NAU, the Wildcats find themselves at 1-3 for the second year in a row and with little relief in sight Saturday against UCLA and sophomore dynamo Maurice Drew (80 carries, 669 yards, 7 TDs).

The problem isn't consistency; Arizona continues to make progress under first-year head coach Mike Stoops. The problem is, as the margins of defeat grow smaller, the players aren't shedding their losing mindset. Remember, at this time last year, with Mike Hankwitz having just succeeded the deposed John Mackovic, the players knew their season was going nowhere. Many of those players returned to the roster this fall and still believe, to some extent, that the games left on the schedule will soon become meaningless.

As Arizona readies to play its first road game of the year, Stoops' leadership skills must be tested. Stoops has a fertile winning history from his days with Oklahoma, to say little of his success elsewhere in his career, and if anyone has the proper qualifications to instill confidence in a green team, he's the man.

Will the men's basketball team return to the Final Four?

Despite what others may attest to, Arizona's first-round loss to Seton Hall in the NCAA Tournament wasn't all that surprising. Dumbfounding losses to Washington and Stanford had already stripped away the team's aura, and having Lakers-esque frontcourt depth for the majority of the schedule spelled a quick end to what should be remembered as a transition season.

This year, everything is in place for a long run. Seniors Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire are playing for lottery slots in the NBA Draft, and junior forward Hassan Adams could follow suit. Depth is no longer an issue, thanks to an excellent draft class, and unlike last year, the team has big-game experience at every key position.

But, as was well illustrated last season, the Wildcats will not perform if they can't motivate themselves. Forty-point wins over St. Mary's look nice on Sportscenter, but another middle-of-the-pack finish in an emaciated Pac-10 this season will not fly, not with the fans, not with the alumni, and certainly not with head coach Lute Olson. Anticipate 15 points per game from Frye, Stoudamire and Adams, and for second-year point guard Mustafa Shakur to actually lead the team in assists.

If all that happens, no one will be arguing with the results this spring.

- Tom Knauer is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached

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