UA ranked No. 9, 'nowhere near' potential

By Monty Phan

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Well, half of the Pacific 10 Conference men's basketball season is over and ... let's see here ... oh wow, look at that ─ UCLA and Arizona are tied for first. Quelle surprise.

Sure, that was expected. After all, the preseason pollsters all but declared the conference the Pac-Two, saying that, yes, Stanford and Arizona State had talent, but no player of Damon Stoudamire or Ed O'Bannon's caliber.

But that's why they play the games on the court instead of on paper. And at this season's midpoint, even on paper it's a toss-up. Two games separate the top six teams, one separates the top four. Right behind the de facto leaders are ─ guess who? ─ Stanford and Arizona State, tied at 6-3, and Oregon and Washington State, one game behind them.

Nevertheless, this is Tucson, and all those other schools don't matter. So, here's a report card for the first semester:

Guard: This position could easily be renamed for Stoudamire, because he has all but redefined it. (The problem, however, is that they wouldn't be able to find anyone to fill it.) The senior guard currently leads the conference in scoring (21.8 points per game) and assists (7.6 per game). In fact, he has played a huge role in helping the Wildcats to a 17-4 record (7-2 in the Pac-10) so far this season.

"I'm a hard critic of our team, and we haven't even begun to play as well as we can," Stoudamire said of his ninth-ranked Wildcats. "Now that the first half of the Pac-10 is over, I think we can look back and say, 'We should be 9-0,' and we haven't even played that well."

At the two position, junior Reggie Geary was hampered by a left ankle sprain, but the injury has since subsided. As most opposing coaches will attest to though, an injured Geary is still better than most healthy players.

Grade: A

Forward: The constant this season has been the other senior on the team, Ray Owes. Owes is leading the team in rebounds at eight per game while running second in points at 15.6.

At the other forward spot, Corey Williams and Joe McLean have emerged as the contenders, but that could change once freshman Miles Simon is fully recovered ─which could be this week ─ from a finger dislocation suffered almost a month ago.

"We're nowhere near where we want to be," Williams said. "I think the chemistry's starting to come together, but as far as what we know we can do, we're pretty far away from that right now."

Defensively, Williams' and McLean's numbers combined still don't compare to Owes', particularly in field goal percentage and rebounding.

Grade: B-

Center: The tag-team combination of Joseph Blair and Ben Davis have started clicking since the latter began playing in late December, as they have been second and third on the team in rebounding, respectively. Both are averaging double digits in points, and are shooting over 50 percent.

But in the 13 games he's played, Davis has just three blocks, while Blair is averaging one per game. Blair, though third on the team in free throw attempts, has made less than half, while Davis has hit over 60 percent. And while both have proved dominating at times, neither has truly taken over a game yet.

"They both know that this is evaluated daily (in practice)," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "I don't see one as a starter and the other one as a reserve. I see them as guys that are both starters and it all depends on which one we open with."

Grade: B

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