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9 Arizona A program that's famous for its guards has a new look: A frontcourt that will give foes fits


What do you get when you mix four talented but callow freshmen
with three upperclassmen who've won a national title? If you're
Arizona, you get a successful but mistake-prone season that ends
horribly: an NCAA first-round meltdown (losing to 13th-seeded
Oklahoma) darkly reminiscent of other tournament collapses by the
Wildcats. "Last season didn't turn my hair white," says coach
Lute Olson, "but I thought I might go bald from tearing it out."

Olson and his team should have a less stressful NCAA run this
year. In 7'1" junior Loren Woods, who sat out last season after
transferring from Wake Forest, Olson has a sensitive soul who
might be the most talented big man he has ever had. Woods spent
the downtime tinkering more with his attitude than with his game.
"A lot of people tell me I need to do this or that to improve,
and I'm getting better at laughing those comments off," says
Woods, who left Wake because he was uncomfortable in the team's
slow-down game and with the expectations that he become the next
Tim Duncan.

Playing alongside Woods to form one of the best frontcourts in
the nation is power forward Michael Wright, the Pac-10 freshman
of the year last season. "As good a year as Michael had, he will
blow that away this season," says Olson. "I'm amazed at how much
he's improved."

Wings Richard Jefferson, who earned All-Pac-10 freshman honors,
and Ruben Douglas will be pushed by slick-passing redshirt
freshman Luke Walton, son of NBA great Bill Walton. The only real
question mark is at the point, where freshman Jason Gardner is
already drawing favorable comparisons to former Wildcats Damon
Stoudamire and Mike Bibby. Says Olson, who is not given to hype,
"Jason is a better defensive player, and probably better shooter,
than Stoudamire or Bibby were when they came in."

--Kelly Anderson

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Fired up After a year as Duncan's understudy at Wake Forest, Woods is ready to blossom in the desert.



SF Richard Jefferson[1] 6'7" So. 11.3 ppg
PF Michael Wright[1] 6'7" So. 13.9 ppg
C Loren Woods 7'1" Jr. 2.3 bpg*
SG Ruben Douglas[1] 6'4" So. 8.0 ppg
PG Jason Gardner 5'10" Fr. 22.6 ppg+

1998-99 record: 22-7 Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 16
Returning starter[1] *As soph. at Wake Forest
+As high school senior