Lute Olson's biggest pet peeve is a lack of defense, so when the Wildcats underachieved in that department last season -- leading to their late-season collapse -- it was enough for the Hall of Fame coach to re-evaluate the program, from top to bottom.
The emphasis, naturally, will be on defense for the 2004-05 season. The coaching staff won't put up with any more lapses or any selfish play.
"We weren't good defensively [last season]," assistant coach Josh Pastner said. "We're going to be a great defensive team."
And don't talk about rebuilding, even though the Wildcats will be without dynamic forward Andre Iguodala, who left school after his sophomore season to enter the NBA Draft.
"We have everything we didn't have last year," Pastner said. "We'll be like the 2003 team. We'll have experience and depth and leadership. I think they're hungry. The way they finished off [a first-round NCAA tournament loss], they don't want to finish off that way again."
FRONTCOURTCenter Isaiah Fox suffered a season-ending knee injury in a loss against Florida, and the Wildcats never recovered. They missed Fox's defensive intensity, his leadership, and his ability to keep teams from focusing on fellow post player Channing Frye. With both Fox and Frye back, the Wildcats should be formidable inside.
Frye has emerged as one of the Pac-10's top inside scorers. He improved his numbers from 12.6 points per game as a sophomore to 15.9 as a junior while rebounding well (7.4 rpg) and shooting a high percentage (.548) from the field.
Last year, Olson struggled to find a big man off the bench when Frye got into foul trouble. He believes that won't be a problem this year.
"We're going to have the best depth we've had in some time," Olson said. "There are some young guys, but the good thing is that they are physically ready to play."
Expect more from Kirk Walters and Ivan Radenovic, a pair of 6-fot-10 sophomores. Radenovic, a native of Serbia-Montenegro, joined the team in late December and provided some decent minutes off the bench.
Olson also believes 6-9, 230-pound freshman Mohamed Tangara can help right away. Throw 7-2 freshman Charles Okwandu into the mix, and Olson has never had this much size at his disposal.
BACKCOURTThe Wildcats boast one of the most skilled groups of perimeter players in the nation.
Hassan Adams will take over for Iguodala on the wing. He is quick and can score off the dribble as well as anybody in the Pac-10. Adams led the team in scoring (17.2 ppg) and also averaged 7.3 rebounds, an impressive number for a 6-4 player who spends most of his time on the perimeter.
Point guard Mustafa Shakur started 28 games as a true freshman and averaged 9.4 points and 4.5 assists. Olson expects Shakur to blossom into more of scoring threat this season.
"I think Mustafa is going to take charge right away," Olson said. "Now it's an experienced point guard with really good players at each position."
Salim Stoudamire and Chris Rodgers are two of the top long-range shooters in the nation. Stoudamire, the team's second-leading scorer (16.3 ppg) in 2003-04, connected on a team-high 78 3-pointers and shot 41.5 percent, while Rodgers came off the bench and hit 42.2 percent from beyond the arc.
The Cats will, at times, go with a four-guard lineup with Frye in the middle. Adams, Rodgers, Stoudamire and Shakur are strong enough to guard bigger players and not get manhandled on the defensive end of the floor.
FINAL ANALYSISIf possible, Arizona could be flying a bit under the radar. And that's just how Olson likes it.
This Wildcat team has plenty of talent. Adams, one of the most versatile talents in the nation, could emerge as the Pac-10 Player of the Year; Shakur will prove that Point Guard U can still produce big-time leaders; and a healthy Fox will give Frye a needed break in the middle.
Arizona found itself on the bubble last season and snuck into the field as a No. 9 seed. That won't happen this season. The Wildcats should make a run at the Pac-10 title and find themselves with a high seed once March rolls around.