By Monty Phan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Eight days until coaches start calculating, fans start fidgeting, and broadcasters start babbling. Eight days until the start of the second season, until the madness that is March begins.
It couldn't come sooner for the Wildcats.
The Day After for the Arizona men's basketball team Ä yesterday's player interviews Ä could've signified the beginning of the second season for the 13th-ranked Wildcats, just 24 hours removed from a loss to UCLA that all but eliminated them from the Pacific 10 Conference race. The then-sixth-ranked Bruins' 72-70 victory at Pauley Pavilion gave them a two game lead over both UA and Arizona State with five Pac-10 games left Ä in essence, one three-pointer was the difference from being out of it and being tied.
"We've got to come out and play these games now," said point guard Damon Stoudamire. "Like I said (Sunday), I think the Pac-10 race is over. It's pretty much not in our hands so we've got to come out and play these five games as hard and as best we can. It's important for us to finish out the season strong."
As it now stands, speculation is that No. 2 UCLA will be a one or two seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, with Arizona (19-6 overall, 9-4 in the Pac-10) going anywhere from a three to six seed. If the Wildcats go high, they will most likely stay out of the West, a lower seed may have them stay in the Bruins' bracket. Stoudamire said if the season ended today, he predicts his team as a third or fourth seed.
"I still think we're probably one of the top ten teams in the country," he said. "I think there's no way we're going to be out west right now, unless we drop to about a fifth or sixth seed. It doesn't really matter (where we play) anyway."
"We're just trying to finish strong," junior guard Reggie Geary said. "Those rings and everything just come about, last year they just came about. Our overall goal Ä like I've told everyone from the beginning Ä is our team motto, to play on Monday, to not lose your last game. That's all it comes down to."
The Return of Reggie: Speaking of Geary, he's speaking again. And on the court, he's speaking loud, as his combined 31 points for the weekend was his best output since before the Pac-10 season. Playing in front of his family Ä he's from Santa Ana Ä helped, but in general, he's just feeling better.
"I wasn't mad at the media or anything like that," Geary said. "I could've scored 40 one night, I still wouldn't have changed my mind (about talking to the media). I was just very unhappy. One thing about my friends, they know I'm a moody person. They know I have a tendency to act like a big time jerk at times. And they understand me and accept me."
While his mother's presence in the stands eased him, it also motivated the junior, as more than ever he felt like he had something to
prove on the court.
"My mom came up to me, and she was asking how my ankle felt, and I told her it's the best it's felt since before Christmas," Geary said. "She (said), 'Then there's no reason why you shouldn't be out there playing.' My mom's always talking about how she comes to the games to see me shoot. She said she doesn't want to see me just run around and pass the ball to Damon all the time.
"I was going to put it up and show my mom and everybody that when I'm healthy I'm one of the best players around, especially in the Pac."
Rare 'O' for Owes: Senior Ray Owes' 0 for 8, zero-point performance in Sunday's game marked only the second time this season he hasn't scored in double figures, dating back to the Jan. 12 game at California. Moreover, it was the first time in over two years Ä Feb. 4, 1993, to be exact Ä since he was held scoreless in a game. While he felt he was the reason for the team's loss, both head coach Lute Olson and Owes' teammates begged to differ.
"I know he was tremendously disappointed afterwards, because he's a guy that takes a lot of pride in playing big in big games," Olson said. "Ray has played big in all of the big games, with this exception. I've seen Olajuwon have bad games too, they're not machines.
"Ray always gives you full effort, every game, every practice. He's been our most consistent player."
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