Old-timers. Seniors. Arizona is absolutely lousy with them. Just
the other night a trio of geezers was indulging in yet another
all-you-can-eat special at the Sushi Hama in Tucson. "You know
what the cool thing is?" said Wildcats point guard Jason Gardner,
nodding at his mackerel-munching fellow seniors, forwards Luke
Walton and Rick Anderson. "Once you're older, you know what it
takes to win a national title."
What it takes these days is seniors, the kind of program
players--Shane Battier, Mateen Cleaves, Juan Dixon--who put the
old in old school. After a 13year span beginning in 1987 in which
only one national champ (UCLA in 1995) featured three senior
starters, two of the last three titlists have done so (Michigan
State in 2000 and Maryland in 2002). "Seniors in a successful
program know what pressure is," says coach Lute Olson, "and that
really helps the younger guys."
Good thing, since Arizona has eight freshmen and sophomores in
its 11man rotation, including bulked-up 6'10", 235-pound center
Channing Frye, who led the team in scoring and rebounding on its
10-game summer tour of Australia. With All-Americas Gardner and
Walton on hand as steadying influences, the Wildcats' depth and
newly installed full-court pressure will wear foes down to the
About the only concern is chemistry: Can all 11 Wildcats stay
happy? Moreover, if Gardner's minutes and points dip slightly, as
is likely, how will he respond? "The success of a point guard is
determined by how his team does as opposed to how much he's
scoring," Olson says. As if to prove he's listening, Gardner
preached the unity concept all fall.
Nor does it hurt to have a selfless player like Walton, the
nation's most feared passer. "A lot of times you get teammates
who are only worried about making the NBA," Walton says. "The
main goal on this team is to win a national championship." With
their three wise men showing the way, the Wildcats have the
talent--and the temperament--to make that goal a reality.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH SHARE THE WEALTH With all the Wildcats' riches, the splashy Gardner may not score as much as he used to.
POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT
SF Luke Walton 6'8" Sr. 15.7 ppg
PF Rick Anderson 6'9" Sr. 12.4 ppg
C Channing Frye 6'10" So. 6.3 rpg
SG Salim Stoudamire 6'1" So. 45.3 3FG%
PG Jason Gardner 5'10" Sr. 20.4 ppg
2001-02 RECORD: 24-10 (12-6, T2 in Pac-10)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Oklahoma in Sweet 16
Assists per game for Luke Walton, the Pac10 leader last season.
Walton is the first nonguard to top the conference in
An opposing coach's view
With its scoring power and killer press, Arizona will overwhelm
"Some say Arizona has too many players to keep happy, but the
senior leadership and the winning will keep that from being a
problem.... Luke Walton is the guy who makes them click. If
you're smart, you'll defend him as a passer more than a
shooter.... Jason Gardner loves to shoot quick-release threes
coming off screens and prefers to pass or to create fouls when he
puts it on the floor. If he has any weakness, it's his ability to
finish off the dribble.... Channing Frye should be better on the
block with added strength.... Rick Anderson can step away and
beat you, but he's not as clever as Walton and gets into trouble
if he has to guard a big power forward.... Freshman forward
Andre Iguodala will be one of the best athletes in the Pac10....
They're going to press a lot this year, so you can't let them
dictate the tempo."