Players of the Year: Arizona Wildcats

SAN JOSE - The Player of the Game is Channing Frye but there is so much more to look back on from the season than just a singular performance. Here is a look at Frye against the Sooners and who else promises to make 2003 a bright future.

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Oklahoma 88, Arizona 67.

All good things must come to an end, even those things orchestrated by the great Lute Olson. Arizona's magical (and most unexpected) run came to its conclusion in the Sweet 16 when the Wildcats met an Oklahoma team that exploited Arizona's season-long weakness: defensive rebounding and lack of size on the wing.

I guess since this is a sponsored story, I have to select a singular "player of the game" and so I will. I'll take Channing Frye based on potential over the course of a career. Against the Sooners, Frye had nine points, five rebounds and two blocked shots while shooting a perfect 4-4 from the field. The game was a microcosm of his entire season. In fact, if it wasn't for some early foul trouble, Frye looked like he may have had one of his more productive games of his until he was whistled for his second foul midway through the first half. Too bad.

Now that we've taken care of the business end of this article let's move on to the rest of the team.

Jason Gardner didn't quite get to the 700-point plateau but with his 14 points, he did manage to score 692 points for the season, fourth highest in Arizona history.

Luke Walton played about as poorly as he has ever played in a Wildcat uniform but he STILL wound up with a near triple-double: nine points, eight rebounds and eight assists. The five turnovers hurt but he was outmatched athletically in the second half.

Isaiah Fox had one of his better games against the Sooners by scoring eight points and playing solid defense on Aaron McGhee and Daryan Selvy. Speaking of Selvy, it was his he and his fellow wing stars Ebi Ere and Jason Detrick that really made the difference in the game.

The Wildcats, who need an Andre Iguodala-type recruit like they've never needed one before, simply had no answer for the Sooner trio's size and athleticism. It was exactly what Arizona had trouble with over the course of the whole year: stopping bigger and more athletic wings from penetrating and scoring. We'll call it the Freddie Jones Syndrome.

Back to the good.

Will Bynum came out and played with confidence and intensity from the first moment he got up off the bench. Bynum scored seven very flashy points in a short time and helped lead Arizona to a four-point halftime lead.

Salim Stoudamire had an off shooting night and had some trouble with rotations in the zone defense before halftime, and that allowed Hollis Price to score 22 first half points on 6-9 three-point shooting. Salim only scored eight points but the future is All-American bright for the freshman from Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Rick Anderson was aggressive throughout but wasn't quite strong enough to bang with Oklahoma's inside presence. With a good summer workout strength and conditioning regimen, there's no reason to think that Anderson won't improve at least as much from his junior to senior year as he did from his redshirt year to this year.

The best thing to look forward to next year for Arizona is the fact that there will be two (and maybe three) new faces on the roster, all of whom bring with them the size, athleticism and competitiveness that the program needed more of in 2002.

In Hassan Adams (6-4, 205) and Chris Rodgers (6-4, 190), Arizona will have a couple fresh bodies to rotate in along the perimeter. Both are big guards that will add size to the lineup and let guys like Stoudamire and Bynum to guard the opposition's smaller point guards.

With everyone coming back plus the arrival of Adams and Rodgers, there is absolutely no reason to think that Arizona won't be back as a favorite to make a run at the Final Four next year in New Orleans.

For now, however, Arizona gets some rest for the summer and can work on the little things that make teams better. Individuals will try to add strength, work on their shooting and find what roles they fit into going into 2002-03. Walton and Gardner are virtual locks to be on some preseason All-American teams and they will be deserving of the honors. But if Wildcat fans are looking for one near-seven-foot reason to be excited about the next version of Wildcats, look no further than Channing Frye.

Frye wins Player of the Game for his efforts against Oklahoma and the Sweet 16 Wildcats earn a collective Players of the Year for what they did in 2002.

24-10 after losing four starters and seven of the top nine in the 2001 rotation is not too bad at all. Nothing to be ashamed of in the loss to Oklahoma. Only reason to look forward to Arizona's coming back with avengence come October 15th.


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