UA out to prove critics wrong

By Patrick Klein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona forward Michael Dickerson said the Wildcats don't get any respect.

If that's true, the road to respect starts tonight.

Arizona (0-0) tips off the regular season against Long Beach State (0-0) at 6:30 at McKale Center in the first round of the preseason National Invitation Tournament.

The game will mark the first time since 1988 the Wildcats will play a game as an unranked team. They were 27th in the Associated Press men's college basketball poll, released Monday. The 141 consecutive weeks in the Top 25 were longer than all other programs. North Carolina now has the longest streak at 90 weeks.

Dickerson said he feels there is a perception that this year's Arizona team is in a rebuilding period. He said a good showing in the NIT would go a long way to proving the critics wrong.

"Right now they're counting us out," Dickerson said. "They said in the papers we're star-less right now. If we win this tournament, we're going to skyrocket in the polls and let people know we're not as bad as they think we are.

"I think we're going to play better this year. We're all going to be playing together."

Winning the NIT, which includes No. 5 Georgetown, No. 16 Arkansas (a possible second-round opponent for Arizona) and No. 17 Michigan, as well as Oklahoma and Georgia Tech, would put the Wildcats back in the rankings. But first things first.

Long Beach State, which plays in the Big West Conference, has made the NCAA Tournament two of the last three years. Wildcat head coach Lute Olson said he expects a 49er team that will be looking to run and will press after made baskets.

The biggest problem for LBSU head coach Seth Greenberg is the height advantage Arizona enjoys in the frontcourt. Akeli Jackson, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward, and Juaquin Hawkins, a 6-7, 195-pound forward, will have to match up with Arizona's Ben Davis (6-8, 255 pounds) and Joseph Blair (6-10, 265 pounds).

"I have to put two of my post players together to equal one of theirs," Greenberg said. "I don't think we'll be the only team that Blair and Davis give matchup problems."

Olson acknowledged the advantage.

"It's a good matchup for us, and it creates a mismatch for us inside when they try to defend Davis," Olson said. "They have good overall size but they aren't nearly as physical. They don't have a team that can match up with two 6-9 guys."

Sophomore guard James Cotton is the 49ers' main offensive threat, and Reggie Geary will get the assignment to stop Cotton.

Geary and Cotton had some history together, as both played in the same Catholic school league in California and have played against each other before.

"He's extremely athletic and very capable," Geary said. "Some guys saw him play this summer against Ray Allen (a preseason All-American from Connecticut) and said the two were going head-to-head. He's definitely on Allen's level."

While Cotton has a size advantage, Geary said he will use his superior quickness and hope for help.

"The only advantage I can see is that we'll always be throwing guys at him and wearing him down," Geary said. "While I am a little smaller, I think I have some quickness on him. For the most part, against a player of his caliber, you just want to get where he's not killing you everytime down the court."

Tonight's game will mark the return of Dickerson, who sat out Sunday's exhibition win over the Mexico National Team because he was serving an NCAA suspension for improper use of a rental car.

His promotion to the starting lineup, Olson said, was a no-brainer.

"Since the first day of practice he has been one of the most impressive guys on the court," Olson said. "It's not just the coaches he's rated very high by his teammates."

Dickerson said he did not think missing Sunday's tuneup would affect him.

"I think Sunday's game was just a game to get your jitters out," Dickerson said. "I think I'm behind, but I think I'm going to come out and play well."

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