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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Rocky season comes to a close

    Arizonas Mustafa Shakur goes up for a shot over Villanovas Randy Foye during the first half of No. 8 seed Arizonas second round game against No. 1 seed Villanova on Sunday at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. Shakur averaged 19 points in the NCAA Tournament.
    Arizona’s Mustafa Shakur goes up for a shot over Villanova’s Randy Foye during the first half of No. 8 seed Arizona’s second round game against No. 1 seed Villanova on Sunday at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. Shakur averaged 19 points in the NCAA Tournament.

    men’s hoops season review

    Arizona head coach Lute Olson spared his words in describing the 2005-06 Arizona basketball season, calling it “”a challenge.””

    The Wildcats set all the wrong milestones this season, losing more games and suffering three consecutive losses for the first time since Olson’s first season, 1983-84, falling out of the regular-season polls for the first time in 312 weeks and going through enough turmoil to make the Portland Trail Blazers jealous.

    While the comparisons to the 1997 national championship team, which lost nine games and finished fifth in the Pacific 10 Conference, were off-base in the end, Arizona’s advancement and near victory in the second round of the tournament may have salvaged what freshman forward Marcus Williams called a “”rocky year.””

    “”There was a lot of rocky points, but I think we handled ourselves well, bounced back,”” Williams said. “”We came together at the right time. During tournament time, we played our best basketball.””

    A top-10 team to start the season, Arizona played a brutal early nonconference schedule, taking on NCAA Tournament No. 4 seed Kansas, No. 1 seed Connecticut, and No. 6 seed Michigan State at the EA Sports Maui Invitational in Hawaii, losing the latter two games, in overtime against Michigan State and by nine to a UConn team many believe is the frontrunner for the NCAA championship.

    The coaching staff went to a four-out, one-in offense that did not play out the way it was envisioned. Arizona struggled to shoot the ball from the perimeter in the first three games, shooting at a 36 percent clip, a trend that continued throughout the season as the Wildcats would shoot 44.6 percent and 31.9 percent on 3-point field goals on the year.

    “”We started out great defensively at the beginning of the year, and there was a time when we were doing good offensively and not so great defensively,”” said Arizona assistant coach Josh Pastner.

    The offense would change and so would the personnel.

    Redshirting sophomore guard Jawann McClellan, ineligible for the first semester, came back only to injure his wrist in his second game back and be sidelined for the rest of the season.

    “”If there was one thing that could have changed and that would have been to have Jawann the whole year, we wouldn’t be talking about (the challenge),”” Olson said. “”That’s how good I think he would have been. In terms of his toughness, his physical and mental toughness would have made a huge difference.””

    Senior guard Chris Rodgers went from starter to sixth man to dismissed from the team and back to key contributor after being reinstated. Redshirt senior forward Isaiah Fox missed the end of the season with a back injury and sophomore guard Jesus Verdejo transferred at the beginning of the year.

    “”We changed some things in the lineups I can’t pinpoint,”” Pastner said. “”It was just one of those years.””

    Freshman guard J.P. Prince went from playing a season-high 28 minutes and dishing out 10 assists against NAU to riding the pine the entire way against Villanova in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Fellow freshman Williams impressed throughout, scoring 13 points per game, good for second on the team and first among Pac-10 freshmen.

    The emotional leader of the team, senior guard Hassan Adams, had his ups and downs as well, going from a 32-point performance in a double overtime win at Washington to scoring in single digits in back-to-back games against Oregon State and California. Furthermore, Adams found himself in trouble with the law twice, getting arrested for disturbing the peace and driving under the influence of alcohol, for both of which he pleaded not guilty.

    Asked how he wanted to be remembered, Adams said: “”Hot Sauce, just my energy, just me being me, that’s what I hope I leave, a great taste in everybody’s mouth.””

    Adams, who stayed all four years at Arizona, was named an All-Pac-10 performer and was twice named Pac-10 Player of the Week this season. He ended his career second on Arizona’s all-time list in steals and third in field goals made and field goals attempted.

    The Wildcats’ rollercoaster season found its lows in losses at Houston, at Oregon, at Oregon State, at Southern California, at California and three times to UCLA. From Jan. 5 to Feb. 4, Arizona lost six of its 10 games, and aside from a seven-game winning streak early in the season, Arizona was 13-13.

    “”If we had been more consistent during the season, we wouldn’t have been in the position where we had to play somebody, a No. 1 team, in their home territory,”” Olson said.

    Arizona went to the Pac-10 Tournament without Adams, who was suspended for his DUI arrest, and beat Stanford for a third time but lost to UCLA once again.

    Olson had said this year’s team would be as good as the team of 2004-05 by February, but the Wildcats delivered on that statement only in March, playing their two best games of the season. Arizona got into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed and clobbered No. 9 seed Wisconsin, 94-75, with its best shooting performance of the season before nearly beating Villanova, falling 82-78.

    “”We went out competing, and that’s the big thing,”” Adams said. “”We knew at any time we could come together. … This was the perfect time for us to gel and start playing like Arizona.””

    While the Wildcats never came close to sneaking back into the top 25, Olson believes they ended the year a team worthy of the rankings.

    “”The way we played over the last 10 games…we’re certainly among the top 25 teams in the country,”” Olson said. “”I think (Villanova head coach) Jay Wright gave us a great compliment by saying, ‘This was not a No. 8 versus a No. 1; it was more like a No. 1 versus a No. 1.'””

    Olson may have experienced possibly his toughest season in Tucson, but always an optimist, he looks toward the future with a smile.

    The smile gets even bigger when any speculation of a possible retirement comes up. Fresh off a new contract that keeps him at Arizona through 2011, Olson said he’d be signing an extension after that as well.

    “”There were a lot of bumps along the road, but everyone has bumps along the road certain years, and you just have to deal with it,”” Olson said.

    With the 20-win season streak alive at 19 and the NCAA Tournament-appearance streak going at 22, Arizona’s rocky season did not meet expectations but comparatively could have been a great season for most schools.

    “”A little bit of an off year for us is still 20 wins and the second round of the NCAA Tournament,”” Pastner said.

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