Wildcats brush off 49ers, face Arkansas next

By Patrick Klein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The straw that stirs the drink? Not quite.

Reggie Geary would rather be known as the gourmet cook that prepares the meal. And after his seven-assist, one-turnover performance in the Arizona basketball team's 91-57 win over Long Beach State in the first round of the preseason National Invitation Tournament last night, who can blame him?

"I'm like a chef that cooks the food I never eat it," Geary said. "If they enjoy the food, I enjoy it."

Add in his 16 points, three steals and three rebounds, and Geary's job description expands to include pouring the wine and clearing the table.

"He did a great job," Arizona head coach Lute Olson said. "He's so alert and aware of where people are. His ball-handling is getting better and better. He also showed you can't leave him open anymore."

Not in the box score for Geary, and the rest of the Wildcats (1-0) for that matter, was the stifling defense they played for 40 minutes, denying passing lanes and forcing bad shots. Long Beach State (0-1) was limited to 35 percent from the field and committed 18 turnovers in the 34-point season-opening win, which was played before 13,824 at McKale Center.

"I think we played hard defense. I don't think you'll see a time when we don't play hard defense," Olson said. "There weren't many passes that weren't contested and (Long Beach State) always had to fight for position."

"We have such quickness, there is no reason we shouldn't be denying passes," said Joseph Blair, who finished with 10 points and five rebounds.

The Wildcats knew they had a height and weight advantage at the forward positions with the 6-foot-10, 265-pound Blair and the 6-9, 240-pound Ben Davis. The 49ers countered inside with Juaquin Hawkins (6-7, 195) and Gerry Branner (6-8, 245), a surprise starter who was thrown in to try to give Long Beach State more bulk.

That move didn't work, as Blair and Davis, helped by senior Corey Williams and freshman A.J. Bramlett, held the 49er frontcourt to 14 points on 7-of-20 shooting.

"We did a great job on defense," Blair said. "Most of their shots were under 10 seconds. Interior defense is better because it forces it outside and there is a lower percentage outside. Defense made the difference tonight."

LBSU's main offensive weapon, guard James Cotton, the Big West freshman of the year last season, led the 49ers with 18 points but was hounded by Geary into 4-of-13 shooting.

Michael Dickerson was the game-high scorer with 19 points, and Davis added 18 points and nine rebounds.

With four players in double figures, the Wildcats showed this year's team has multiple offensive weapons, a far cry from last year's team, which was dominated by the scoring of All-American guard Damon Stoudamire.

"I was surprised we didn't have seven or eight players in double figures," Davis said. "We have so many guys who can score, some just need a chance."

After a rocky start that saw Arizona fall behind 10-4, the Wildcats stepped up the pressure, forcing Long Beach State into 12 first-half turnovers, some of which fueled an 18-3 run that gave Arizona the lead for good at 22-13.

That was as close of the 49ers would get, although they did cut the lead to 13 at 60-47 with just over 12 minutes to go. After an Arizona timeout, the Wildcats went on a 15-5 run over the next five minutes to end any doubt regarding the outcome.

For Geary who spent most of last season hobbled by an ankle injury and said before the season he was looking to return to the active, enthusiastic player of two years ago this game was exactly what he needed.

"I was just out there having fun," he said. "It was the old Reggie."

The crowd even got into the act. After Geary fed Williams for a layup with about three minutes left in the first half, the fans broke into chants of "Reg-gie, Reg-gie." He responded to that by hitting a three-pointer on the next possession. The chant started again in the second half.

"(The chanting) is a personal thing for me," Geary said. "I appreciate it and I try to respond to it."

With the win, Arizona advances to a second-round NIT match against No. 16 Arkansas in Fayetteville on Friday. The Razorbacks beat NE Louisiana last night.

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