By Roman Veytsman
SAUL LOEB/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA sophomore point guard Mustafa Shakur steals the ball during the Wildcats' 98-70 victory over Wyoming in McKale Center last night.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, December 1, 2004
The UA men's basketball team was happy to be back home last night, but the Wyoming Cowboys were just as happy to see McKale Center, shooting 48.4 percent from the floor in the first half.
The Wildcats, however, finally showed the killer instinct they've been talking about early in the season, outscoring the Cowboys by 20 in the second half. Getting back to their offensive ways of a year ago - when Arizona led the nation in scoring - the Wildcats scored 98 points, 53 in the second half, and shot a much better 47.9 percent from the floor.
"We did a much better job of shot selection, being patient for the opening to come," UA head coach Lute Olson said. "It was a good game for us."
Providing that killer instinct was the inspired play of freshman Jawann McClellan, who proved to be a stat sheet-stuffer. McClellan's breakout performance in Madison Square Garden was extended last night, as he finished with a career-high 19 points in just 21 minutes.
"I'm feeling very comfortable," McClellan said. "Every time I step out on the court, I'm just trying to play hard."
He also grabbed four rebounds, including two on the offensive end, and played a pivotal role in the Wildcats' second-half full-court pressure, forcing multiple Cowboy turnovers in the backcourt.
"I'm not looking for points," McClellan said. "I'm just looking for defense and rebounding."
Arizona had been outscored in the second half of both of the team's first two home games, so even though Olson planned to play the bench guys for an increased amount of time, the Wildcats kept up their intensity and put the Cowboys away early. In the first 4:27 of the second half, Arizona blitzed Wyoming with a 13-2 run.
"We were up by only eight at halftime, but we came out in the second half pressing all over the court, and that's what helped us get a big lead and have open looks," McClellan said.
Throughout the second half, Arizona pushed the tempo and broke down the Wyoming guards.
Despite Cowboy point guard Jason Straight's strong ballhandling, Arizona was able to force 20 turnovers, many of which led to easy buckets.
In recent games, Arizona tended to pull back its pressure at times. But last night, the pressure was incessant.
"The press accomplished what we wanted, and that was to get them to play at a tempo that was not good for them and good for us," Olson said.
"Coach Olson stresses the first five minutes of the second half," McClellan added.
McClellan, a McDonald's All-American and big-time scorer during his high school career in Houston, didn't receive the type of playing time many expected in the Wildcats' first few games.
But the 6-foot-4 swingman improved his defense and made plays not seen in the box score.
"I probably wouldn't have said it in high school, but it starts on the defensive end with me," McClellan said.
His aggressiveness on defense had the McKale crowd rocking for the first time this year, as he raised his arms after a 3-point play.
Olson said he knew McClellan had the ability to be a great defender, but added that the freshman wasn't forced to play tough defense in high school.
"His first week or two were not very impressive defensively, but he realized if he was going to play he was going to have to defend," Olson said. "He has a lot of ability."
McClellan also got to the free-throw line eight times, converting on seven of those attempts. Arizona only went to the line three times as a team - twice by McClellan - in their loss to Wake Forest.
"Sometimes, I just try to go in there and try to make contact," McClellan said. "If I make contact, I'm athletic enough to still try to make the shot. If I get to the free-throw line, I can get comfortable at the free-throw line, and then I can get my shot squared away. It makes my shot much easier, plus the game will come more easier too."
Arizona's aggressiveness showed, as Wyoming sent the Wildcats to the line 29 times. With McClellan's improved confidence and productivity, Arizona's depth is finally starting to take shape, as well as that killer instinct that will fuel the Wildcats' roar as the season wears on.