Men's hoops must fend off hungry bears

By Roman Veystman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 3, 2005

Anywhere outside the West Coast, the name Richard Midgley probably wouldn't raise an eyebrow, but according to Arizona men's basketball head coach Lute Olson, the Wildcats will be paying a great deal of attention to the California point guard.

UA plays the Golden Bears tonight at 8:30 in McKale Center in hopes of bouncing back from an upset loss to Washington State Saturday and containing Midgley, a junior guard, could be key.

"They're a hungry team, just like Washington State was a hungry team," said sophomore guard Mustafa Shakur about the Bears, who have won three straight. "They (Cal) have their point guard back so they're going to be ready to play and try to pull the upset like Washington State did."

Midgley leads Cal in scoring at nearly 15 points per game, and Olson thinks his efforts are often overlooked outside of the Pacific 10 Conference.

"Yeah, he's underrated because outside of the West if you say Midgley in ACC country, they think it's a new candy bar," Olson said.

Arizona beat Cal in the teams' last meeting, 87-67 in Berkeley, Calif., with Midgley scoring 13 points, but most importantly holding Arizona's Salim Stoudamire to just six points.

Complimenting Midgley, is 6-foot-10 junior forward Rod Benson, who's vying for most improved player in the Pac-10.

Last season he averaged just 2.6 points per game in limited minutes, but this season he has become Cal's No. 1 post option, averaging 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

"The big kid, Rod Benson, is really playing well, and playing well in all phases - scoring, rebounding, challenging shots," Olson said.

In his last game against Oregon State, a 91-66 California win, Benson had 22 points and 10 rebounds.

The challenge of guarding Benson will most likely fall on the shoulders of senior center Channing Frye, who has a personal connection to the Bears' center.

Frye's roommate and Benson both went to Torrey Pines High School in San Diego.

Although the Wildcats beat Cal in the last meeting between the schools, the Bears were missing sophomore guard Ayinde Ubaka.

Ubaka, who was hurt for January's game, will allow Midgley to become more of a scorer and gives the Bears another significant option offensively.

"It's made a difference for Cal to get their guard back," Olson said. "Ubaka has done a really good job of getting the ball down. He makes a big difference."

Against Arizona, the Bears concentrated on defending Stoudamire, and Frye was able to get going, scoring 20 points.

If California plays a box-and-one again on Stoudamire, Shakur believes the Wildcats will be able to take advantage.

"I think we can definitely play off of that because he's not going to help off of Salim, so when somebody's driving in that direction they can get other people (involved)," he said. "I think we'll be able to play well off that just as we did against Cal at their own home."

With Stoudamire possibly being a decoy, Frye will look to be more aggressive. "They'll definitely have a game plan to stop Channing and not let him get the ball," Shakur said. "Hopefully we can get Channing the ball more so he can be more effective."

On Saturday, Arizona faces Stanford, to whom they have lost their last three games.

Stanford junior point guard Chris Hernandez scorched the Wildcats with his shooting last time, as did the rest of the Cardinal.

"Stanford has come on to be what we all expected them to be at the start of the season," Olson said. "I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Hernandez was not at full speed earlier. He is a game-breaker, a game-decider and he has certainly shown that."

Before Arizona looks forward to a redemption game at Stanford, it must first focus on California. Stoudamire, for one, does not care which team Arizona plays first.

"I don't care," he said. "I just want to play."