By Tom Knauer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, November 3, 2004
Size will matter this season for Arizona's men's basketball team.
Sunday's Red-Blue Game marked the first time in nearly a calendar year center Channing Frye and forward Isaiah Fox roamed the paint together in official competition. For both players, it was a productive outing. Frye dropped 37 points and eight rebounds for the victorious Red team, while Fox (eight points, 14 rebounds) picked up where he left off last November, when he injured his knee against Florida.
On a roster that features only three players weighing more than 230 pounds - Fox, Frye and sophomore center Kirk Walters - the contributions of Arizona's senior postmen will determine whether the Wildcats can improve on last year's total of 20 wins and move further into the NCAA Tournament.
With increased depth at all positions this season, thanks to a plentiful recruiting class, channeling the success of years past might not seem to depend on just Fox and Frye. Three of this fall's projected starters - senior guard Salim Stoudamire, junior guard Hassan Adams and sophomore guard Mustafa Shakur - all contributed major minutes in 2003, and their time together will only help the team as it runs its fast-paced attack down the court.
But defense was a liability for Arizona last season, and in that area Fox's return will pay the biggest dividends. With few able bodies to assist Frye down low, Adams - who at 6-foot-4 was a curious choice at power forward - ended the year as the team's second-leading rebounder (7.3). That allowed Adams to show off his versatility for the pro scouts, a process that will likely continue through spring, but the team was still left without a banger in the key. Having the 6-foot-9, 263-pound Fox for an entire season will allow Frye (15.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg in 2003) to focus more on his own professional prospects.
Yet Frye would also do well to keep his eyes on the next few months. With the team's added depth, as well as the predicted collapses of Stanford and Oregon, the Wildcats have an excellent shot at winning the Pacific 10 Conference. Last year's runner-up, the Washington Huskies, have title aspirations of their own, and it will take a full effort from both Frye and Fox to stymie forwards Mike Jensen, Bobby Jones and Hakeem Rollins, who return as three of the team's top frontcourt presences. Arizona won't meet Washington until Jan. 27, in what will undoubtedly be a hot ticket in McKale Center. There, in February, the Wildcats suffered only their second home loss of the year and the first series sweep by the Huskies in 20 years.
Different state, same result
Arizona football fans can't be blamed if Saturday's final score against Oregon State seemed a bit familiar. For the second time this year, the Wildcats went down by a 28-14 tally to a team from the state of Oregon. And once again, Arizona came back from a large first-half deficit to impress the coaching staff, if not the scoreboard.
Turnovers, penalties and a continued penchant for stalled drives doomed the Wildcats throughout the game. In a less-than-memorable set of downs early in the first quarter, Arizona found themselves with second-and-two in the Beavers' red zone, only to watch kicker Nick Folk hook a field goal attempt wide right three plays later. Three minutes later, Oregon State scored the game's first points, on a two-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Derek Anderson.
Luckily for the Wildcats this weekend, they encounter a favorite foe - on the gridiron, at least. In a matchup now on par with Bills-Dolphins, Arizona and Washington will battle for the penultimate spot in the Pac-10 standings.
Many fans may remember the last time these teams were engaged, in a seemingly dour game last November. The teams traded scores for much of the contest, as Wildcat running back Mike Bell (26 carries, 222 yards, three touchdowns) supplied the firepower for Arizona. The game appeared to slow in the game's final two minutes, with the Huskies trailing 27-22 and driving, but things snapped back to normal after a Lamon Means knockdown ensured the victory.
"Fandemonium" ensued as thousands of fans flooded the field, and Arizona took home its first - and only - conference win of the year.
Flash forward to today. Arizona is in the midst of a seven-game losing streak - again - and looks for more love from its northwest rivals. The Wildcats return Bell and welcome head coach Mike Stoops to a game that quite possibly is the last winnable date on the schedule.
Winning two games again is probably not what Stoops and the team's revamped coaching staff was expecting at the end of the summer. But at this point, with Arizona doing about as much as it can to sabotage its season, any sort of victory will do. On the talent front, Arizona is clearly superior to a rebuilding Washington program, which reported Monday that it won't be retaining head coach Keith Gilbertson after the season. With that motivation now against them, the Wildcats must overcome their myriad mental lapses to grab a "W."
Most important will be to establish the passing attack. Redshirt freshman Richard Kovalcheck again showed the promise through the air against the Beavers, hooking up with receiver Biren Ealy on a 27-yard score, but his two interceptions didn't help the cause in the end. With Bell making his way toward Arizona's first 1,000-yard rushing season in three years, the ground game will work just fine. It's up to Kovalcheck and his receivers to keep the offense on the field.
Nothing more, nothing less.
-Tom Knauer is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.