Weary Wildcats travel to Michigan after brief layoff

By Monty Phan

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Hmm ... a 48-hour layover.

That's what the Arizona men's basketball team's arrival back in Tucson Sunday basically amounted to, as the Wildcats get set to take on the Michigan Wolverines tonight in Auburn Hills (Mich.), still somewhat fresh off their trip to Alaska.

The game is one of four in the DIRECTV Great Eight, a first-year event involving seven of the eight final members of last year's NCAA Tournament: Boston College, Florida, Duke, Missouri, Purdue, Michigan, and Arizona. (Because of its prior committment to the Tip-Off Classic, Arkansas is being replaced by Connecticut.) ESPN will televise tonight's Missouri-Purdue and Arizona-Michigan matchups, with the latter taking place at approximately 7 p.m. Tucson time.

In lobbying for the change of their nickname to the Arizona Nomads, the Wildcats (2-1) have had a hectic first week, to say the least. In its first four games, the team will have traveled over 9,000 miles in the air, as well as having experienced four different time zones.

"We took a flight out of Alaska at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning and got back here (in Tucson) 1:30 yesterday afternoon," Coach Lute Olson said in a conference call Monday. "So it was a long night and really this is a very difficult travel situation for us because we're talking about another two-hour time change going in the other direction this time."

Olson expressed his displeasure in going to Michigan in the middle of the week, stating that he doesn't think the interests of the student-athlete are taken fairly into account when scheduling these kinds of events. Because the team competes tonight, it was impossible for the players to miss less than two days of school. To avoid missing

class yesterday, the squad left in the afternoon and didn't make it to the hotel until midnight.

"I don't know what the reason is for a mid-week (schedule of games) but I personally don't think it's right," Olson said. "I objected to it at the time and I'm objecting to it now because I don't think it's in the best interest of the kids. I think this should be a Saturday-Sunday kind of affair and I know that creates problems because of the television revenue.

"But I'm not in favor of it and I expressed that here to our administration at the time that it came up. I can see this being an outstanding event that people look forward to but I really think the organizers really need to take a look at when this is being held."

Wolverine head coach Steve Fisher was less upset about the situation, but then again, the game is being played virtually in his back yard. But with the Michigan players recent arrival from competing in the Maui Invitational, Fisher definitely knows where Olson is coming from.

"We won't miss any class," Fisher said. "(However) I can appreciate what he's saying. He's coming from a long way after having got back from Alaska and that's not easy for any of us."

But, as the saying goes, the show must go on, and the Wildcats will nonetheless take the floor against a Michigan team two starters shy of last year's squad, which was routed by Arizona in Tucson last December. The Wolverines lost Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose to the NBA, leaving Jimmy King and Ray Jackson as the sole remaining members of the "Fab Five," the nickname given to the five outstanding freshmen three years ago.

"We're a team that's got a blend of youth and experience," Fisher said. "We've got a team that's in the infancy stages of adjusting to what we could be. Right now we are a team still a little bit in search of where we are."

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