The White team (see table below) wound up destroying the Blue team by a score of 122-86 but it was still very entertaining and showcased Arizona's depth, talent and exciting style of play. Freshman Hassan Adams gets this writer's vote as the Player of the Game, but he had plenty of challengers for the honor. In the end, though, Adams' incredible first half performance was what made the difference.
The teams in the first half consisted of the following:
|Will Bynum, 5-10 So. PG||Jason Gardner, 5-10 Sr. PG|
|Jason Ranne, 6-4 Jr. SG||Chris Rodgers, 6-4 Fr. G|
|Andre Iguodala, 6-7 Fr. SF||Hassan Adams, 6-4 Fr. WG|
|Dennis Latimore, 6-8 So. PF||Chris Dunn, 6-7 Fr. WF|
|Isaiah Fox, 6-9 So. FC||Luke Walton, 6-8 Sr. F|
The first half wasn't even close, and it wasn't exactly a surprise considering the fact that the country's two leading contenders for the Player of the Year award – Gardner and Walton – were on the same (White) team.
Both of the senior leaders played well and kept the tempo up and the mistakes down while a freshman (Adams) shot the lights out and scored 21 points as the White team went into halftime with a 68-37 lead. Adams connected on five of seven three-pointers in the first half and his shot looked much more polished than in previous outings. The rotation was excellent, as was the arc of his shot.
If Adams was the most impressive freshman of the first half, than Chris Dunn wasn't far behind. Adams put up the big numbers but Dunn played well at both ends of the court. He blocked four shots, scored six points and grabbed half a dozen rebounds while matching up against sophomore Dennis Latimore. Even with a 70-pound disadvantage, Dunn played Latimore to a draw thanks to his athleticism and impressive mid-range shot.
Yet another freshmen that has shown improvement from the start of practice until now was guard Chris Rodgers. He had a decent first half - hitting a few threes, scoring in transition and making smart passes – but he was outstanding after halftime when he scored 15 points in a variety of ways. He had 26 points for the game.
The fourth Wildcat rookie, Andre Iguodala, was a little bit under the weather, according to sources, but he still fared well. He had a number of highlight-reel finishes and shot the deep ball better than he normally does. For one of the few times so far this preseason, Iguodala was actually overshadowed by the other three freshmen. Generally, it is Andre who does the overshadowing but listing him fourth here should be a sign of just how well the other three freshmen played.
Bynum once again matched up against Gardner on Saturday and both looked excellent. Bynum scored 14 points in the second half when he switched to Walton's White team (along with Iguodala) after Gardner and Adams moved over to the Blues. Will ran the offense in a much more Gardner-like fashion. He had a couple long passes take off on him, but for the most part he played mistake-free basketball from the point guard position.
His shot is picture perfect and he showed no signs of reverting back to his shot-happy ways from a year ago. Basically, Will Bynum got a hell of a lot better and that's not even taking his vastly improved defense into consideration. The key for Bynum, as Lute Olson has said, is for him to be more consistent and steady.
Without Frye around to bang with, Isaiah Fox mostly went against Walton for much of the time on offense. His play around the basket is a nice combination of power coupled with a soft touch. He had one play where he caught a pass at the top of the key, faked a pass to catch his man off guard and then weaved through a couple of defenders on his way to a lovely left-handed layup.
Because of that move, Isaiah Fox is now expected to join the battle for playing time behind Gardner at the point.
Walton was, like Gardner, amazing. The 6-8 do-it-all forward scored 23 points with several three-pointers to his credit, dished out close to ten assists (if not more) and had over 20 rebounds. He was forced to guard the 260-pound Fox and more than held his own defensively.
Speaking of Gardner, the Wildcat warrior quietly played exceptionally well like he normally does in games that don't count. He ran his team flawlessly, scored on drives to the hoop (a couple coast-to-coast runs), pull-ups in the lane and, of course, several long three-pointers. Thanks to the added athleticism on the wing around him, Gardner was able to make things happen off of his passes much like he did in 2000 and 2001.
With the way the coaching staff has been asking him to run the team in the preseason, it looks like a certainty that his assists will definitely increase while the pressure to score 20-plus points for the Wildcats will be lessened.
Gardner was part of one of the plays of the day when he drove baseline, passed the ball behind his back to Walton, who then flipped it over to a wide-open Dunn for a thunderous two-handed dunk. The ball movement on this team is reminiscent of 1988, 1998 and 2001. Everyone shares the ball and passes well, including Fox and Frye.
Latimore, who had a tendency to be hesitant with the ball as a freshman, showed his progress in that area today. On one play, Latimore slashed inside for an offensive rebound, came down between three defenders and immediately exploded back up to the rim for a resounding dunk in traffic.
The dunk was a sign of improvement from Latimore and it could be said that it was a microcosm of this whole Arizona team. Everything that needed to be improved from last year has been. It's a long season and it's still almost six months until Championship Monday in New Orleans, but the Arizona Wildcats are already playing like a team on a mission.