At long last, talented Arizona plays up to its potential
Posted: Friday March 17, 2006 7:08PM; Updated: Friday March 17, 2006 7:49PM
Philadelphia native Mustafa Shakur (right) burned Tanner Bronson and Wisconsin for 17 points and a game-high nine assists.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
PHILADELPHIA -- This is the Arizona team we've been waiting to see all season. The Wildcats have the talent to match just about any team in the field, but they have been wildly inconsistent, rarely have played together and have been beset with off-the-court problems. On Friday afternoon, Arizona finally put it all together.
If the Wildcats play like they did in their 94-75 first-round victory over Wisconsin, they just might be able to shock top-seeded Villanova. Arizona has athletes at every position, a point guard who can break down the defense and get into the lane, bigs who can get up and down the floor, and a scorer who can take over games when he gets hot.
"We know we're a good team," said point guard Mustafa Shakur, who scored 17 points and dished out nine assists in a return to his hometown. "We haven't shown it lately, but when everything comes together like it did today, we can beat anyone. It's been a tough stretch for us, but now it's a new season."
Arizona certainly played with emotion and a sense of urgency, two things that were missing during the last two months. The Wildcats looked like a prime candidate for an early exit after sleepwalking through a 71-59 loss to UCLA in the Pac-10 tournament, but with Hassan Adams back in the lineup, Arizona looked like a different team.
"We played about as well offensively as we've played all year long," said Arizona coach Lute Olson. "The key was we let the game come to us, worked for the open shot and knocked them down when we got them."
Shakur, a senior who played high school ball at Philadelphia's Friends Central High, looked at home in the Wachovia Center even though it was the first time in his college career he has played a game in the City of Brotherly Love. Inundated with ticket requests, Shakur managed to secure 42 thanks to some of his teammates. "But it still wasn't enough," he said. "I needed like 100."
Shakur displayed the flash that made him one of the most sought-after point guards in the nation coming out of high school. Midway through the second half, Shakur brought down the house with a beautiful spin move in the lane that froze the Wisconsin defender and resulted in an easy layup. "That was my move in high school so people around here are used to seeing it," he said. "I'd get calls all the time asking me to do the spin. I can't get away with it much in college ball, but I pull it out every once in a while."
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan's 82-year-old father, Butch, was in the spirit before the game. Decked out in a red Wisconsin hat and sweatshirt and a green Mardi Gras necklace for St. Patty's Day, Butch stood on press row before the game (he has a special seat reserved), waving to the fan section where his wife, granddaughters and great-grandson sat. At one point, he smiled at a fan and held up six fingers. "It'll be a six-point win," he predicted. He was far from accurate, but Butch gets an A for effort.
Player Who Impressed Me
After missing the Pac-10 tournament following his arrest for suspicion of drunken driving on March 5 (he has pleaded not guilty), Adams was back in the lineup and was unquestionably the best player on the floor. Slashing into the lane with ease and showcasing a silky-smooth jumper, Adams scored 17 of his game-high 21 points in the second half (he played just six in the first after picking up two quick fouls) and his presence and energy seemed to give Arizona a lift.
"I was in rhythm and the team needed me," he said. "We were getting open looks and knocked them down. If we do what we need to do, we'll be all right."
Arizona has a lot of weapons, defends well and gets up and down the floor. If the Wildcats continue to play at this level, they're a dangerous team. In addition to Adams and Shakur, Ivan Radenovic (18 points) is playing extremely well and glue guys Marcus Williams and Kirk Walters are capable of defending and knocking down shots.
The sky is the limit for us," said Adams. "We can go as far as we want."