Cats smoke Trojans 97-80; Walton shines

Arizona defeated the first place USC Trojans at McKale Center Thursday night and in doing so, the Wildcats may have found the formula for success that they have been looking for since the team left New York two months ago. That formula is very simple and it goes like this: get the ball to Luke Walton and...well, that's a great start.

Off the top of my head, I can think of only two games that Wildcat players have had that are comparable to the one Luke Walton played tonight against USC.

And those two might be pushing it.

Damon Stoudamire had an outstanding triple-double against Oregon his senior year where he had 32 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists. No wonder he was an All-American and a star in the NBA later on down the road.

The other game that sticks out to me was Khalid Reeves' 40 point outburst against Michigan's Fab Four in the championship game of the Fiesta Bowl in 1993. In that game, Reeves made 13 of his 14 shots and was named that tournament's most valuable player for his performance.

Speaking of players who are the most valuable to their team, that brings us back to Luke Walton.

Against the first place Trojans, Walton finished with this amazing stat line: he scored a career-high 27 points, had 11 rebounds, 10 assists, four steals, five blocks and a partridge in a pear tree. The opinion here is that his outing may have been the single most impressive all-around performance of any Arizona player during the Lute Olson era.

Because of all the things Walton can do (and did, against USC), five Wildcats scored in double figures including three of the five freshmen in Arizona's eight-man rotation.

Oh and by the way, Arizona also won handily over USC by a score of 97-80 and improved to 5-2 in the Pac-10, 13-4 overall. But for now, let's call the outcome secondary to the individual game that Cool Hand Luke had.

Walton was so good tonight that Fox Sports Net's Marques Johnson, himself a former NCAA Player of the Year, commented that Luke was as good as anyone in America from an all-around standpoint. He even went so far to say that a triple-double is within Walton's realm of possibility everytime he steps foot on the floor for a game. Now that's a nice set of compliments from a guy who knows a thing or ten about playing basketball at a higher level.

Many of Walton's game-high 10 assists went to freshman guard Will Bynum, who had his best game in an Arizona uniform with 17 points on 4-4 three-point shooting. Bynum was at his best because Walton put him in position to be. He had two backdoor cuts for baskets off passes from Walton and hit his final two threes courtesy of cross-court aerials from Walton.

Does anyone think that there's a serious correlation between the Wildcats playing at the top of their game and Luke Walton being on the floor at full strength? Jason Gardner may be the team's best player but it is Walton who is most important. Gardner and Walton form one of Arizona's most productive combinations from an inside-out perspective. Just to illustrate that point, consider that tonight against the Trojans, Gardner and Walton combined to produce a minimum of 61 points.

Arizona only scored 94. That's an amazing 66% of the team's offense directly as a result of two players. It was only appropriate that the two junior leaders for Arizona left the court together with 1:05 remaining, their team leading by 20, to a standing ovation.

Gardner for what he has done in the past and Walton for what he did tonight.


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