Heading into Pac-10 play next week, conference foes should understand one thing about this Arizona team. Despite their perimeter oriented starting five, this is not a team that will get pushed around this year.
Memphis tried dearly to do just that and it worked – for a while.
Memphis (8-3, 1-0 C-USA) seemed to own the glass last night in their 79-71 loss to Arizona. Joey Dorsey led the Tigers with 11 rebounds, seven coming on the offensive end alone. Dorsey was an absolute beast in the first half and his rebounding efforts were a major reason his team was leading at the break.
Arizona (9-1) did a better job of boxing out in the second half and in the end actually outrebounded Memphis 35-34. What's more, Arizona matched Memphis' efforts on the offensive boards with each team pulling down 12.
Trailing 38-33 at halftime, Arizona used a 15-5 run in the opening minutes of the second half to take the lead 48-43. From there, the Wildcats kept up the pressure and led by as many as 11 before Memphis made a late rally to trim the score to 75-71 with just over two minutes to play.
Arizona was led by Mustafa Shakur who was named the game's Most Valuable Player. Shakur finished with 23 points, five assists and six rebounds.
Memphis did a good job in holding down Arizona's other stars for the game's first 20 minutes. Ivan Radenovic was held to six first half points while Chase Budinger had only three. Marcus Williams, plagued by foul trouble all night, was limited to seven points and six rebounds, but looked good when he was on the floor despite having both wrists taped.
The game's turning point came with three minutes to go in the first half.
Budinger, scoreless at this point, took what was about as obvious a charge as you're going to see in a game played at such a fast pace. The referees let the play go, though, and Memphis converted an easy lay up.
Instead of sulking, Budinger took the ball out of the half court set, drove the lane and finished at the rim while being fouled. He converted the free throw to finish off the three point play.
Budinger was a different, more aggressive of player after that.
The freshman finished with 18 points and six rebounds, making all seven of his free throw attempts.
Jawann McClellan had an off shooting night but as usual contributed in other ways, hauling in six rebounds and dishing out 4 assists.
For the game, Arizona shot 44.8 percent from the floor, well below their season average. They allowed Memphis to shoot 43.1 percent from the field but that stat is deceptive as Memphis was on fire in the games opening 12 minutes.
The Tigers made 6 of 11 three-pointers and had many easy offensive put backs for scores before the Wildcats buckled down on defense.
Arizona's 2-3 zone and man defenses were not very effective in the first half.
The Wildcats did a good job in masking their 1-3-1 zone to start the second half, which clearly confused Memphis. The Tigers began to settle for too many contested outside shots and actually missed their first 10 attempts from behind the arc, finishing the half an abysmal 2 for 11 on 3-PT FGS.
Arizona's stout second half defense combined with their good ball movement and better shot selection proved to be the difference as the Wildcats won their ninth consecutive game.
Up next for the Wildcats is a visit from the California Golden Bears (8-3) next Thursday.
Before we preview the Pac-10 opener for both teams, let's take a quick look at the good, the bad and the ugly from last night's contest.
Mustafa Shakur played great. I honestly didn't think he was as athletic as he really is. I know he's got quick feet and gets up the court faster than any other Wildcat in history except maybe Jason Terry, but holy cow. I had no idea he could explode to the rim as well as he did last night. Twice, he had elbows to the rim on monster breakaway dunks. Same came be said for McClellan while we're on the subject. J Mac's two handed slam, set up by a Shakur pass, seemed as if he had jumped off a trampoline. On a more serious note, Radenovic's box out of Dozier with 1:41 to go in the second was awesome to watch. He didn't get the rebound, but Memphis had cut the lead to 75-71 and got a pretty decent look to trim the lead even more. Radenovic put Dozier on his back and allowed Shakur to secure the rebound, which actually bounced on the floor (that's the kind of drill coach's use in practice to teach players not to try and out jump others for rebounds). That was fundamental basketball at its best and for Arizona fans everywhere, let me just say that it's a pleasure to once again watch a fundamentally sound and disciplined Arizona team. It's been a while.
Arizona was getting destroyed on the glass early on and the momentum gained by Memphis really kept them in this game longer than they should have been. Even when Memphis' shooting finally cooled off in the final eight minutes of the opening half, they continued to get offensive put backs that seemed to dispirit the Wildcats at times. Watching the game I felt like Arizona could've been up by five or more at half even though they weren't doing much on offense if only they could've secured a few more boards. Still, watching the game you could tell that there was no doubt Arizona wasn't going to win in the end. Once Budinger got angry after the charge no-call, the whole team as well as the crowd seemed to ignite.
Both teams played well and will prove to be difficult outs for any opponent now that the second season is almost underway. The beauty of last night's game is that ‘ugly' is too harsh a word to describe either teams play. Sure, there were some bad turnovers, poor shots and shaky defense at times but by no means did either team or any one player have an ugly game. In fact, this is the perfect way for both squads to head into the mini holiday break. Plenty of things went right for both to know that they are capable of being good teams and just enough things went wrong at times to allow these two outstanding coaching staffs to constructively work with the players in the next few practice and film sessions.