Tuesday, December 19, 2006
#10 Arizona 87, Houston 62
UA men's basketball: No. 10 Arizona 87, Houston 62
Cats find the right balance
All five starters in double figures as Arizona wins
By Bruce Pascoe
Arizona Daily Star
The balanced boxscore speaks volumes about Arizona's team effort Sunday, but all you really needed to see was one play.
In the second half of No. 10 Arizona's 87-62 victory over Houston at McKale Center, Mustafa Shakur broke downcourt with the ball while Marcus Williams trailed behind him. Then, instead of laying up or dunking the ball himself, Shakur lofted it neatly off the glass and left it for Williams, who finished with an emphatic slam.
The dunk gave the UA (8-1) a comfortable 57-40 lead with 14:46 to go, furthered Williams' second straight double-double and was perhaps the most satisfying of Shakur's eight assists.
As it turns out, Shakur wanted to playfully get Williams off his back after driving downcourt with Williams behind him on a similar play last week at San Diego State — and scoring a somewhat generic basket himself.
"He said 'You gotta look better than that,'" Shakur said. "That's how Marcus is. He thinks he's another Vince Carter."
Instead of firing verbal shots back, though, Shakur fired Williams the ball.
"I told Marcus, 'Next time, be ready — if you're behind me, I'm gonna throw it off the glass,'" Shakur said. "He just knew that I was going to throw it up."
Knowing his players must have had some form of communication was a relief to coach Lute Olson, who might have otherwise preferred a much safer shot. At that point, while the Wildcats were leading, the high-scoring Cougars (4-3) had shown the potential to give them a scare.
Houston pulled within a point of Arizona, 24-23, in the first half and attempted 41 three-pointers for the game. But the Cougars made only 29 percent from three-point territory and 31 percent overall, while the Wildcats out-rebounded them 58-26.
As a result, Olson was able to start clearing the bench with 2:46 left and smiled about the Shakur-Williams play afterward, noting how it fired up a particularly responsive crowd, the first sellout of the season in the 14,545-seat McKale Center.
"The only thing Marcus has to do is (beware of) hanging on the rim," Olson said. "If this was a Pac-10 (officiating) crew, it would have been a technical."
Williams finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds after posting his first career double-double on Dec. 9 at San Diego State with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Ivan Radenovic, meanwhile, put together his 13th double-double, with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Chase Budinger added 15 and Houston native Jawann McClellan scored 10.
Moreover, the Wildcats discovered a rather helpful bench for a change. Guard Daniel Dillon and forward Jordan Hill both earned 15 minutes, with Dillon adding six points and Hill six rebounds.
Even though he is a Houston native playing in his first game against the Cougars, McClellan didn't make the game about him. Nobody did.
"Everybody played well tonight," McClellan said. "Our bench came in and gave us great minutes. We're just playing good as a team right now. If you look at the stats, everyone is producing in every category."
In other words, it was the kind of effort Olson could have expected long before the season started. He knew he had a deep roster and he knew he had talent, athleticism and length.
Then, once he saw the way his players interacted with each other, he knew the possibilities were even greater.
"They really enjoy playing together," Olson said. "They enjoy making a good pass more than getting it in the bucket. I said before the year began that this team would have great chemistry and they really enjoy each other."
For a change, Olson also had the luxury of playing his entire team except reserve guard J.P. Prince, who suited up for the first time in five games. Prince has been out for mostly unspecified reasons but said after the game that he is still recovering from a month-long hospitalization last spring that cost him a 35-pound weight loss.
The subject of speculation about a possible transfer, Prince smiled when asked about his immediate future and said Wednesday's game against his hometown Memphis Tigers is "still on my schedule'' but declined to specify what he meant.
"You'll find out sooner or later," Prince said.