Return of the Point Forward

Arizona has a point guard who averages over seven assists a game, but late in the contest against Oregon it was a forward who had the ball in his hands. As Daniel Dillon and Nic Wise have proven to be somewhat unreliable the past few weeks at the point, the Cats have returned to an old strategy when they decide to replace Mustafa Shakur. Welcome back to the Point Forward!

It was a position made famous at Arizona by Luke Walton. While Jason Gardner was a great point guard, it was actually Walton who was the better passer and had the superior court vision.

While Marcus Williams is not the passer that Walton is, he can be a good floor general. Against Oregon it was Williams who filled in at the point when Shakur needed a break. Late in the game, with Shakur struggling, Williams had the ball in his hands quite a bit. According to Williams part of that was the flow of the offense, while some was Lute Olson's decision.

"Coach obviously trusts me with the ball late in the game," Williams said.

It wasn't the first time Olson turned to Williams to run the offense. He's done it on a few occasions, most notably last season after Chris Rodgers was suspended. Williams isn't a traditional point guard, but he can certainly keep the offensive flow going and does a decent job getting teammates involved, while not turning the ball over.

"It makes a huge difference for us," Olson said. "His flexibility, it allows us to do things we couldn't ordinarily do."

With neither Dillon nor Wise playing well at this time, the Cats needed someone to take some pressure off Shakur. While Shakur is one of the best conditioned players on the team, even he has started to look a tad fatigued of late.

Dillon just hasn't been a quick judgment guy on the offensive end and has not seen any real point guard action this season. Early in the season Wise looked capable of taking a few minutes off Shakur's plate but he has played his way out of the rotation with poor decision making, carelessness with the ball and a shot that just isn't falling.

Enter Williams. While Olson turned to him at times last season to run the point, he has not been used a whole lot this season until recently. This move not only gives Olson the option of resting Shakur for more than a minute here and there, it also gives the Wildcats some offensive flexibility in terms of how they use Shakur. In some ways they can mimic the 2003 team that often had Walton running the offense which allowed Jason Gardner to roam the perimeter, looking for his shot.

The Cats also used Williams defensively against Aaron Brooks. Much like Olson used Michael Dickerson to disrupt opposing point guards, he used Williams on Saturday to try to make life difficult for the smaller Oregon guard.

The tactic worked. Brooks had just two field goals, one of which occurred in transition. He never looked comfortable when Williams was guarding him.

"There is no doubt that Marcus' length affected his shot," Olson said.

Not only does Williams give the Cats some options, they seem to be comfortable letting freshman Chase Budinger have the ball in his hands. Although not as experienced as Williams, Budinger is also a good passer and can help run the offense for small stretches if need be.

While most Wildcat fans hope that Shakur does not struggle down the stretch, it is still a real possibility. One of the great knocks on the senior point guard has been his consistency. Once you get to the NCAA Tournament, you can't afford an off night by your playmaker. With Williams' recent emergence, the Cats could possibly survive a Shakur slump.

The Wildcats hope the point forward is as successful this season as it was the last time it was a prominent part of the offense. In 2203 Walton had the best assist year for any non-point guard. While Williams won't come near those numbers, he hopes to have some other similarities to that edition of Wildcat basketball.

That year the Wildcats rode a good passing forward deep into the Tournament. Williams and the Wildcats would love to emulate that 2003 ball club, only this time win a game or three more than that squad.

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