Stoudamire's final three-pointer in the first half put the ‘Cats up 39-17. Arizona hit 12 consecutive shots in a row, blowing the game wide open. The good pressure defense in the first didn't hurt either. The Cats led by as much as 23 at one point in the first half, which they closed up leading 42-21.
As a whole Arizona was clicking on offense. At the half, Arizona was 61% from the field, 6 for 8 on three's, had 14 assists, and grabbed 16 rebounds. The second half wasn't as pretty but wasn't ugly either. Arizona led by 31 points (59-28) at one point in the later half, but as garbage time dragged in the Raiders began to show some signs of life as they mounted a 19-4 run midway through the final 20:00.
Stoudamire and the rest of the Wildcats made sure that would be the only momentum they would get. They closed out the game with 83 points, 35 rebounds, and 20 assists in the victory.
Stoudamire was without a shadow of a doubt the best player on the court. He proved why he is one of the best outside shooters in the nation. Stoudamire hit six three-pointers against Wright State, only two away from tying Arizona's all-time record, held by Jason Gardner. He was only one away from his career best.
When Stoudamire is hot he can't be touched and Wright State got to see that up close and personal. If you watched the game you could see how helpful the senior guard was to this team. You could see how much better they played when Stoudamire was on the court. It was almost as if he inspired his teammates tonight when the team needed a boost. He ended the game with 24 points, two assists, and six rebounds in 28 minutes.
Stoudamire's has made a huge transition from last year and it's already evident. He is passing the ball much better then his previous seasons with the Cats. Basketball is a team sport and games can't be won unless all the pieces fit and work together. Stoudamire's passes are being used much more effectively so far in this preseason. You can see that he is being much more unselfish than he has been in the past.
In the past he would almost seem to pass just to pass. He would give up the ball because he was told you need to make that extra pass. Now he seems to have an extra understanding of who and why to make the pass.
Stoudamire was accused of having a poor attitude for three years. He used to get down on himself, pout, and set a poor example when things weren't going his way. That's not the case this season. He has openly acknowledged that his attitude needed readjusting and it seems for the first time that he has taken these words to heart. Stoudamire seems content with where he is in his career right now. This is a new Stoudamire. He wants to take the team to the Final Four not just for himself, but for the entire team. Stoudamire wants to stand out as the leader of the team.
Yes, Stoudamire definitely did carry the offensive load but the defense wasn't lacking either. The Cats played extremely good pressure D in the first half, holding the Raiders to a mere 21 points, and they didn't play bad defense in the second.
Specifically, Stoudamire drew the assignment of guarding Wright State's DeShaun Wood. The sophomore point guard scored 22 points in the Raider's season opening win over Tulsa and was a key weapon if Wright State hoped to pull off an upset at McKale. Stoudamire held Wood to just two points in the first half. Wood made a living at the foul line against the Golden Hurricane, but when Stoudamire was on him he rarely got into the paint. Early on it was apparent that Wood was not as comfortable going to his left and that is exactly the direction that Stoudamire forced him to go.
Stoudamire was so stifling that Wood did not score until the 3:32 mark in the half and he only got off four shots total in the opening frame. More importantly he did not record an assist against Stoudamire in the first half. In the second half the Cats used a few different defenders on Wood and he got hot, finishing with 18 points, most of them coming in garbage time.
The season opener saw Stoudamire score 20 points. He was not quite as hot from the outside, but he found ways to get his points and help the team. If he can keep up this pace, opposing defenses are going to have nightmares.
The Wildcats now travel to Virginia to take on the Cavilers on Sunday and then head to New York to continue the preseason NIT tournament. They will have to get past Michigan in the semifinals in order to advance to the finals of the preseason tournament. If they can do that they will get the winner of the Wake Forest/Providence game.
The safe bet would probably be on seeing Arizona take on Wake Forest, the number 2 ranked team in the nation, in the finals. Lute Olson is now 14-1 in preseason NIT play and has won three of the tournaments.
If Salim Stoudamire continues to play the way he did Thursday night, Olson may be able to add a fourth title to that category and the Arizona Wildcats may be even better than they were predicted to be during the regular season. It is still early, but so far Stoudamire is getting it done.