2003 NCAA West Regional
Date: Thursday, March 27, 2003
Time: 4:27 p.m. PST
Location: Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim (17,600), Anaheim, Calif.
Radio: Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries/Ryan Hansen)
TV: CBS (TBA)
LAST MEETING: Arizona beat the Irish 76-60 in the 1999 Preseason N.I.T. semifinals.
BACKCOURT: Notre Dame's motto is "live by the three, die by the three". When the Irish are hitting their bombs they are tough to beat, but when they aren't falling they're are in trouble.
"They look for the three, that's a big part of what they do," said Arizona coach Lute Olson.
Mike Brey recently called point guard Chris Thomas "a work in progress." If the talented sophomore is a work in progress, then I'd hate to see the finished product. Thomas is one of the better point guards in the country, the type of player who scores and distributes. He averages 18.7 points and an even seven assists per game, and he's the most important player on the team.
"Chris Thomas is probably most like (Oregon's) Luke Ridnour as far as point guards in our conference," Olson said. "(He's) very quick with the ball and has a quick trigger."
The key for Thomas will be in managing the tempo. Thomas is a player who likes to get the Irish moving, but Notre Dame does not want to run with Arizona. The Irish need to slow down the pace and work for open looks on the perimeter.
The team's leading scorer is Matt Carroll. Carroll is still limited by an ankle injury and has had to settle in as a spot-up shooter and less of an all-around threat. The 6-6 senior scores over 20 points a game and shoots lights out at 44.8 percent from behind the arc. The Wildcats need to limit Carroll's looks from the outside and you could see Arizona go with one of the taller freshmen getting some time defending him.
Danny Miller had a career game against Illinois and the Wildcats will need to keep tabs on the versatile player. Miller is a streak shooter from the outside who can also slide inside for short periods of time.
"They will move Miller from a three to a four, which could create problems like playing (California's Amit) Tamir or (Oregon's) Luke Jackson, because Miller can shoot it from three, he can put it down and create off the dribble as well," said Olson
Torian Jones and Chris Quinn come off the bench and can spark the Irish. Jones is a good scorer, while Quinn is a great three-point shooter.
The Wildcats are getting good, but inconsistent play from Jason Gardner and Salim Stoudamire. Gardner had been in a shooting slump, but knocked down his first two three-pointers against Gonzaga. The Cats don't need a ton of shots from the senior, they just need him to hit more big shots. Stoudamire will likely get the assignment of guarding Thomas and as the Cats' best three-point shooter, will need to hit open looks to free up the post players inside.
Hassan Adams and Chris Rodgers saw limited action against Gonzaga. The Cats tried to use Rodgers as a defensive stopper, but tight officiating on the outside saw Rodgers rendered ineffective. Adams played just four minutes, but the Cats may need his spark off the bench, especially if they try to force the tempo.
FRONTCOURT: The Irish frontcourt is solid, but unspectacular. They have a number of good athletes, who play hard but are not the focal point of the offense. Freshman Torrin Francis is a fantastic rebounder who can get it done inside. He is athletic and strong and will most likely be used against Channing Frye on defense.
Tom Timmermans is a tall, big body who is not a real offensive threat and does not board well for a 6-11 player. Jordan Cornette is a solid big man off the bench. Again, he's not much of a scorer but is versatile enough to guard different types of post players.
"Their inside is solid," Olson said. "They have people inside you have to be concerned with."
All of the post players are physical, though not the bangers that Gonzaga threw at the Wildcats. You can expect the Irish big men to draw on their Big East experience and try to pound the Wildcat frontline.
The UA is getting great play from Frye. He leads the team in tournament scoring and rebounding. He's a tough match-up for less athletic centers and his jump hook has been nearly automatic. He does not like physical play inside, but it has not hurt his scoring much, although he does get distracted when things get rough.
Rick Anderson has been doing everything right. He seems to be at the right spot for every rebound or key loose ball. Anderson, like Frye, does not prefer to mix it up, but he seems more than willing to get down and dirty when things get scrappy.
Luke Walton starts at small forward but sees a ton of time at power forward. Walton is an amazing passer from the top, but can also post up and is a good enough outside shooter to keep teams honest.
OUTLOOK: The Irish have looked very good and very bad, often times in the same game. If their three-pointers are falling they can beat the Wildcats. If their shots are off, then the Cats win in a rout. The Wildcats want to keep things moving and avoid the physical game if at all possible. Although the Irish have players who can run, they need to reel them in and keep things under control and limit possessions.