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Men's Hoops: Big games not new to Wildcats

FILE PHOTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Mustafa Shakur gets his shot blocked by Washington's Nate Robinson during the Huskies' 89-84 win over the Wildcats Feb. 26, 2004.
By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
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With 16 straight years of 20 wins or more under your belt, opposing teams tend to notice your success. The UA men's basketball team knows this and expects nothing less any time they step on the court.

"Our players know that when they come here, you stick an Arizona jersey on your chest and you are never going to get anybody's second effort," said head coach Lute Olson. "We've been used to being the hunted since '85-'86."

Rarely are the Wildcats the underdog, but with No. 10 Washington coming to McKale Center tomorrow and the Huskies having knocked off No. 11 Arizona three times last season, UA becomes the hunter rather than the hunted.

"Especially, me being my senior year and us in the situation that we're in with the Pac-10 being so tight," said senior center Channing Frye. "It can't get much bigger than the next game."

Big games have become a scarcity over the past two seasons in the Pac-10 as the conference has been less than dominant according to Associated Press polls.

The conference hasn't seen more than two ranked teams play each other since 2003 and when top-25 squads do match up, the Wildcats are usually involved because over the last 17 years, Arizona has ended up in the season's final polls.

"When you have Arizona on your chest, everybody is out to get you," junior guard Hassan Adams said.

Last season, UA Pac-10 marquee matchups were against Stanford, who was ranked No. 4 in the first game and No. 2 in the second game. Although UA lost both games, the experience gained by the young Arizona players on the team came from facing quality opponents.

"It's a big game whether you're playing against Stanford last year and Stanford here and Washington last year too," Adams said. "We take the game and play like it's your last."

Playing big games is also important to recruiting because each incoming class understands that the competition will be fierce when playing other ranked opponents, and those games are often nationally televised.

Olson understands that the team can't get too hyped about big games.

He said former UCLA and Hall of Fame coach John Wooden told him a valley always followed a peak, reiterating that his team needs to stay at an even height emotionally. "The biggest thing that you could do is to hype the game so much that your players go out tight," Olson said.

He mentioned younger players learn more in practice because of the amount of talent on the roster than they do from most of the game, against ranked opponents or not. When it comes to big games, the younger players are already prepared for the task of playing the best teams in the country.

Frye has played at Arizona for four years and has faced 31 ranked opponents, including 15 against ranked Pac-10 teams. The Wildcats have gone 20-11 in those games, including Frye's first game in 2001, in which the Wildcats defeated No. 2 Maryland. Frye was pushed into the action early in his career, playing 22 minutes and scoring four points in that win.

"Every game is huge," Frye said.

Not only will the game against Washington be huge because of bragging rights, but also because there is something more to play for - the Pac-10 title. Currently the Wildcats and Huskies are tied at the top of the Pac-10 standings at 6-1, and the sole position at the Pac-10 peak will be up for grabs.

"The key thing from our standpoint is that we just go out and play and have fun playing," Olson said.

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