Cats dispense of freshman jitters

The relatively easy 80-51 win over the Vermont Catamounts allowed Arizona coach Lute Olson to play every scholarship player on the roster. Jason Ranne and Fil Torres, who can now tell their children and grandchildren that they played in the NCAA Tournament, even logged four minutes and one minute, respectively. More importantly, Arizona's three freshmen played a total of 49 minutes.

Many teams come to the NCAA Tournament giddy and just happy to be here. But the Arizona Wildcats have been to the tournament 19 consecutive years. It has become a natural extention of the regular season and more often than not the Wildcats are a very high seed and come to the event beaming with confidence. That doesn't mean they come with nerves of steel and without some butterflies, especially the freshmen who have never been here before.

Salim Stoudamire, who led the Wildcat scorers with 18 points, remembers what it was like when he played in his first NCAA Tournament game as freshman.

"I think the first time coming to the tournament, the first game is the hardest."

Stoudamire was impressed with how this year's freshmen handled the challenge.

"Getting used to the tournament atmosphere, the crowd and the altitude I think they came in a did a great job," Stoudamire said. "I think all the guys are glad they got to play and they feel more comfortable. I think that will give us an advantage on Saturday too."

Andre Iguodala and Hassan Adams have been key players in Olson's regular rotation since early in the season. For the two freshmen to play major minutes in the opening game rout can only pay dividends as the tournament quickly moves to the more competitive rounds.

Iguodala played 21 minutes and had five points and four rebounds, but it was a sensational assist to Adams for a dunk on an alley-oop pass with 12:27 to play that erased any jitters those two might have had.

"(Adams) is always cutting baseline and looking for (the lob)," Iguodala said. "He's getting missed a lot, so I was looking for him and when I got it to him he threw it down. It was lot of fun."

Iguodala also had two steals and five assists. Two of his assists went to Adams, one on the alley-oop and the other for an easy layup.

Adams, who played 17 minutes and scored eight points, also had two steals in the second half. Adams tried to shrug it off and say it was just another game, but there was little doubt the dunk got the jitters out of his system.

"That kind of got the butterflies out," Adams said of the dunk that put the Wildcats up 59-32. "But we really didn't have any butterflies. We knew what we were coming to do. Our goal is to win a national title. Until we get there it's a job, a business."

Freshman point guard Chris Rodgers played 11 minutes and scored four points, hitting all four of his free throw attempts. He also had an assist with only one turnover.

So much for the freshman jitters.

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