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UA looks to dismiss upstart Ducks

EVAN CARAVELLI/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Sophomore point guard Mustafa Shakur drives to the basket during the first half of Arizona's win over UCLA Saturday night. The Cats take on the Oregon Ducks in Eugene, Ore., at 7 p.m.
By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 20, 2005
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Oregon natives Stoudamire, Rodgers eager to silence fans

The No. 13 Arizona basketball team travels to face Oregon today at McArthur Court in Eugene, Ore. at 4 p.m.

While the Ducks are off to a good start at 11-3 (3-2 Pacific 10 Conference), this game means more to two UA players. Junior guard Chris Rodgers and senior guard Salim Stoudamire both hail from the Portland, Ore. area and both are eager to play in front of friends and family.

Last season, the two guards enjoyed great performances at Oregon, including Stoudamire's career-high 37 points.

"It's always crazy," Stoudamire said. "Playing in front of the hostile crowd, I'm going to hear some boos, but I'm also going to have some fans."

Rodgers also took pleasure in his visit back to "The Beaver State," scoring nine points to go along with six rebounds and three assists. Rodgers was a standout at Woodrow Wilson High in Portland, averaging a state-best 26.6 points per game while being named Portland Interscholastic League Player of the Year in 2002.

Coach Lute Olson is worried though that the Oregonians will put too much pressure on themselves.

"I think the key thing with both he (Stoudamire) and Chris (Rodgers) is don't go into it putting too much pressure on yourself," Olson said. "Just go out and play and let the game come to you."

Not only will the Wildcats put pressure on themselves, but the Ducks are a formidable opponent as well, despite losing their last four games against Arizona. Oregon is led by talented sophomore point guard Aaron Brooks, who averages a team-high of 16 points per game.

Brooks, at 6-foot, 160 pounds, doesn't approach the size of Arizona point guard Mustafa Shakur (6-foot-3, 183) but he is lightning-quick, says Olson, and not to be taken lightly.

"He is far and away the quickest player in the league. It's not even close," Olson said.

Similar to their last game, the Wildcats will go against a trio of talented freshmen in Bryce Taylor, Malik Hairston and Marty Leunen. Taylor and Hairston are second and third on the team in scoring, respectively, and make up a top-10 recruiting class for the Ducks this past year.

"Their freshman group is outstanding," Olson said. "That is a nice freshman group and they are getting an opportunity to play because the wings from last year are gone."

Olson was especially surprised with the play of Taylor, who he called an "unbelievable shooter."

In addition to their talent, Oregon is also known for being a tough place to play in because of their raucous crowd.

Shakur believes the key to winning up there is "just being ready from the beginning of the game to the end instead of coming out for the second half or playing the first 20 minutes very well and then the second 20 minutes terrible." Focus, he said, would be the most important thing.

The Ducks are likely to be a tough road test for Arizona, but judging from Stoudamire's play lately and his history at Oregon, the Wildcats should be all right.

"When he goes home to Oregon, he always has a good time," Shakur said.

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