By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 22, 2004
Sure, the Arizona men's basketball team won its first two games by double digits and the buzz around campus suggested this year will be different than last.
But the Virginia Cavaliers exposed the Wildcats last night, beating them 78-60 while bringing back memories of last season to Wildcat fans.
While Arizona still possesses all the talent in could ever need, they Wildcats will need to answer some questions if they want this season to be a success.
1. Will the chemistry of the team be better this year?
During their first two wins, Arizona seemed to play well together at times, sharing the ball and playing tough defense. Mustafa Shakur was a leader on the court, huddling guys up during breaks in action and leading by example with his stellar play. Against Virginia, though, no one stepped up to lead a comeback and the frustration on the face of seniors Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire was obvious, even on TV. The Wildcats looked more surprised than that fan who was punched by Ron Artest Friday night.
2. Can the Wildcats win big games on the road or in neutral locations?
Going to the East Coast and playing in an ACC environment is no easy task. But Arizona must learn to win away from home, as it will have to go to tough venues like Stanford's Maples Pavilion and Washington's Bank of America Arena in Pac-10 play. Last year, the Wildcats were 5-5 on the road and 2-3 in neutral games. This season's 0-1 start is not a good sign.
3. Will the big men rebound and play tough down low?
Arizona was out-rebounded 33-26 by Virginia, and allowed 11 offensive rebounds. Starting forward Ivan Radenovic grabbed a total of zero rebounds and the big guys were often moved out of the way by smaller opposing players. The Wildcats were 4-6 last season in games where they were either tied or beaten in the rebounding category.
4. Can Arizona win when Salim Stoudamire doesn't shoot well?
Stoudamire shot 4-of-11 from the floor, 3-of-10 from 3-point range, and didn't make a field goal in the first half. Stoudamire sparked the Wildcats against Wright State with some early 3s and Arizona never looked back. Stoudamire gives Arizona a different energy level when he's able to connect from the field, and although head coach Lute Olson calls him the best defender on the team, the Wildcats win when he shoots well.
5. Do the Wildcats have a killer instinct?
Arizona has been outscored in the second half in all three games this season. After the first game, the Wildcats vowed to play with intensity for 40 minutes.
But the same result occurred just two days later. Opposing teams have each scored more than 44 points in the second half, while either scrapping to get back into the game, or in yesterday's case, running away with a relatively easy victory.
6. Can Arizona limit their turnovers?
Most experts agree that Arizona has one of the best starting backcourts in the country. But Shakur and Stoudamire were outplayed yesterday by two less heralded guards, as the Arizona duo combined for 11 turnovers and only seven assists. The Wildcats turned the ball over an astounding 21 times, including 15 steals by Virginia. Being careless with the ball and throwing shaky passes isn't the recipe for success against tough defenses on the road.
7. How far can this team go in the NCAA tournament?
Arizona is still far more talented than most of the opponents they will face this season, and they don't need to bring their A-game to win. But the Wildcats can't beat themselves by turning the ball over and playing like they just woke up from a nap. Expect the 'Cats to get it together and get to the Elite Eight.
-Roman Veytsman is a journalism sophomore and the Wildcat's men's basketball beat writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.