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Last time out: Arizona-Played its worst game of the season in an embarrassing 88-72 loss at Arizona State on Wednesday night. Wildcat forward Luke Walton played with the necessary effort needed for a road win but the rest of his teammates did not (with the possible exception of Salim Stoudamire, who never gives less than 110%). UConn-Defeated a solid St. John's club at home in Storrs, and have now won all six Big East games it has played.
The opinion here is that there aren't many things more interesting than good inter-sectional basketball games throughout the year. Arizona vs. Connecticut will be meeting for the third consecutive year and here's hoping this fledgling rivalry continues indefinitely.
Last year, in Storrs, the Huskies beat Arizona on an extremely controversial goaltending call by the Wildcats' Loren Woods (later looks proved that the refs were morons) with 1.8 seconds remaining. However, it should never have been a close game to begin with.
Arizona was outscored 12-2 over the final 3:10 by the 15th-ranked Huskies and lost 71-69 on the strength of Tony Robertson's runner in the final moments. You can bet (but please don't, of course) that Jason Gardner and Luke Walton will have told the freshmen all about last year's game and will be seeking revenge on Saturday morning.
The problem facing the Wildcats this year is the same as the problem facing the Wildcats last year: stopping Husky sophomore sensation Caron Butler. The 6-8 forward is versatile in all aspects of the game and is a potential game-breaker if he gets hot. Look for Walton to match-up with Butler, at least to start the game.
Speaking of match-ups, here's a more in-depth look at Arizona vs. Connecticut (assuming both teams play traditional lineups and don't start off with the three-guard offense).
PG-Jason Gardner (5-9, 185 Jr.) vs. Taliek Brown (6-1, 185 Soph.)
*Brown can match Gardner in just about everything except sheer competitiveness and experience. Brown is a superb ballhandler, he's lightning-quick and he is a creator on offense for his team. Gardner would have a solid edge (and he still probably does since he's at home) if he wasn't in the midst of his third straight mid-year shooting slump. Gardner hasn't shot "well" since the Texas game, and that was over two months ago. Sure, he's scored a bunch of points in several games since then but he's still missing wide open shots that he must hit for this young team to thrive. I expect this battle of lead guards to be pretty even with Gardner getting the slight edge because the game's in McKale.
-EDGE: Gardner (Arizona)
SG-Salim Stoudamire (6-1, 180 Fr.) vs. Tony Robertson (6-2, 200 Jr.)
*Robertson is a very quick guard who loves to penetrate and can finish very well for a guy his size. He can also shoot from outside and that makes him a complete offensive player. For the season, Robertson is averaging 13.2 points per game and is shooting 51% from beyond the arc (he's hit 10 of his last 13 threes) and he will provide a very intriguing match-up for Wildcat freshman Salim Stoudamire. Stoudamire didn't shoot the ball well at ASU and didn't look comfortable either. It is probably safe to assume that Salim will get back on track Saturday morning in McKale Center, where he feels very much at ease shooting the ball. You know you're going to be a great (not "good", but "great") player when people expect you to make literally every shot you take and that is what has started happening when Salim lines one up. Absolutely wonderful things are in store for Damon's cousin (Damon will soon be referred to as Salim's cousin) but for now this match-up is pretty even. No question about whose future is the brightest, however.
SF-Luke Walton (6-8, 235 Jr.) vs. Caron Butler (6-8, 235 Soph.)
*This is the best match-up of the game. Walton and Butler are the two guys who make their teams go. Walton is the better passer and playmaker but there's little doubt that Butler is the superior athlete and all-around offensive scorer. Both are above average rebounders for their size with Butler using athleticism and Walton using intelligence and solid fundamentals to get to the ball. The problem facing both players is that neither can shoot very well from outside. But to nit-pick that deficiency would be to discredit two outstanding basketball players.
PF-Rick Anderson (6-9, 220 Jr.) vs. Johnnie Selvie (6-7, 235 Sr.)
*Let me be the first to say that Anderson does not deserve to start in this game. He played about as poorly as anyone could play on Wednesday night against the Sun Devils. He was ineffective offensively, terrible defensively and dropped passes that could have led to easy dunks and lay-ups. How he expects to do defend against the crafty lefty Selvie is beyond me. Selvie has an outstanding quick spin move on the baseline that he uses several times per game that will give Anderson fits because he's not quick enough to stop it. However, I also believe that Rick Anderson is as good as he wants to be on a particular day and if he has any pride (which he does) he will be out to prove that Wednesday night was nothing but an aberration. Ricky has a coming out party on CBS Saturday morning…because, well, he better.
C-Channing Frye (6-10, 225, Fr.) vs. Emeka Okafor (6-9, 240 Fr.)
*Frye, like Anderson, didn't play well against ASU the other night and should be looking to redeem himself on a national stage against the Huskies. However, the freshman from Phoenix will have his hands full with the ultra-physical shot blocker Okafor (9.1 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game). UConn's talented freshman center is much stronger than Frye is but not nearly as polished offensively and lacks much of a shooting touch from beyond the blocks. Expect Frye to struggle against the physical Okafor initially but (as long as he avoids foul trouble) to see him come through later in the game with key buckets and timely rebounds for the Wildcats.
-EDGE: Frye (Arizona) barely.
-Sixth Man: Will Bynum (5-10, 185 Fr. SG) vs. Ben Gordon (6-2, 185 Fr. SG)
*These two guys would be physical clones if Bynum were just a few inches taller. Both are very strong and chiseled athletes who have shown flashes of brilliance at times and flashes of high school play at others. Bynum is more explosive, offensively at least, but Gordon seems to be a more willing defender and doesn't get as many of his shots blocked because he's four inches taller than Bynum is. Chances are close to 50-50 that these two guys both start as both Arizona and Connecticut seem to be most effective with their three-guard lineups in place. Inconsistency for these two freshmen guards make picking a favorite very tough. But Gordon has played more this year and is averaging 11.7 points per game.
-EDGE: Gordon (UConn).
As you can see, this game shapes up to be very close and competitive, from a match-up perspective anyway.
Keys to an Arizona victory:
*The Cats MUST come out and play with a purpose immediately. There is no excuse not to be ready when the ball is tipped. Freshmen may be freshmen but you're never too young to "want it more" than the other guy. Salim gets this and that is why he will excel in his time at Arizona.
*Jason Gardner needs to knock down the open looks that he gets. In Arizona's offense, anyone watching the game will notice that several times during each game, a guard passes the ball and floats to the other side of the court where his man is screened to set up an open shot from the perimeter. Salim gets a few per game and Gardner gets even more. However, recently Gardner hasn't been making as many as he probably should. Think about it, if you're good enough to play college basketball at this level, a wide open shot from the corner should be money in the bank just about every time it's available. UCLA's Jason Kapono misses open threes extremely rarely but Gardner actually misses quite a few. On the move, however, Gardner is great but he's too small for that to work most of the time. He absolutely must start making his open looks for Arizona to be effective now and throughout the rest of the season.
*Don't allow the quick Husky guards (or forwards for that matter) to penetrate into the middle of the lane like ASU did repeatedly Wednesday night. First of all, penetration like ASU got should never happen against a 3-2 zone so the fact that it happened all night means something is definitely not right. Expect the coaches to have the players re-tooled and ready tomorrow. UConn isn't a very good three-point shooting team outside of Robertson and Gordon but, of course, now that I've said that, the Huskies will probably go out and make about 15 threes like everyone else has been doing at McKale this year.
*Use the crowd to its advantage. The McKale maniacs have been the loudest, craziest, most intense fans in the Olson era as of late (did someone spike the Geritol?). Too bad that this team doesn't capitalize on the energy right off the bat. A third monster comeback in the last four games is highly, highly unlikely against the well-coached Huskies. It's time to hit ‘em in the mouth immediately and let them know who really came to play.
Prediction: Close game (77-74 Arizona)
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