Game 8: No. 7 Arizona (5-2) vs. No. 5 Illinois (7-2)
Date: Saturday, Dec. 16, 2000
Time: 11 a.m. CST
Location: United Center (21,711), Chicago, Ill.
Radio: Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries/Ryan Hansen)
TV: ESPN (Brad Nessler/Dick Vitale)
Game Data: Seventh-ranked Arizona (5-2) travels to Chicago for its final non-conference road game this year to take on No. 5 Illinois (7-2) ... The game is actually UA's fifth neutral-site game of the year ... At No. 5 in the AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Polls, Illinois is the highest ranked team the Cats have faced this year ... UA is 23-23 all-time against Big 10 schools, including the 79-76 win over Illinois on Nov. 22 in Maui ... Arizona is 0-2 at the United Center with Great Eight losses to Kansas (90-87) on Dec. 2, 1997 and Connecticut (79-69) on Dec. Dec. 7, 1999 ... Over the last two years, UA is 6-1 on ESPN.
The Rankings: UA dropped to No. 7 in the Associated Press poll and to No. 6 in this week's ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll. Arizona opened the year as the nation's top-ranked team in the media and coaches polls. Incidentally, UA has been ranked in the AP top 25 for 96 consecutive weeks, the longest active streak in the nation. The Cats have also been ranked in 223 consecutive AP polls released during the regular season.
Arizona Head Coach Lute Olson . . . is in his 18th season at Arizona and his 28th overall as a head coach with a career record of 619-221 (.737) and 427-129 (.768)... He recorded his 600th career win and his 400th victory at Arizona last year and has the fourth most Pac-10 wins in history, trailing UCLA's John Wooden (304, 1949-75), Oregon State's Slats Gill (276, 1929-64) and Washington's Hec Edmundson (266, 1921-47)... He has the second-best conference winning percentage in Pac-10 history (minimum three years), trailing only Wooden (.810/304-74) ... During his 17-year tenure at Arizona, the Wildcats have won one national championship (1997), gone to three Final Fours (1988, 1994, 1997), won nine Pac-10 Conference titles and been to the NCAA Tournament for the past 16 years in a row, which is the second-longest streak in NCAA history (North Carolina, 26)... He also led Iowa to the 1980 Final Four... Olson has been named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year six times (1986, 88, 89, 93, 94, 98), the Big 10 Coach of the Year twice (1979 & 81) and directed the UA program to the nation's best winning percentage over the past 13 years... In his collegiate career, he has produced 35 NBA Draft picks, including 20 at Arizona 15 alone on the 1990s... He has led Arizona to 13 consecutive 20-win seasons and has 22 overall in his career, making him one of only six head coaches in NCAA history to record 22 or more 20-win seasons... Under Olson, the Cats are 261-26 (.909) in McKale Center and have won 189 of its last 199 home games ... He is assisted by Jim Rosborough, Rodney Tention, Jay John and undergraduate assistant Josh Pastner. Olson is 15-6 vs. Illinois.
Last Time Out: Fifteenth-ranked UConn outscored Arizona, 12-2, in the final 3:10 to turn an eight-point deficit into a two-point win in Arizona's first true road game of the season. Tony Robertson's runner with 1.8 seconds to go broke a 69-69 tie and gave the Huskies its only lead of the second half. The UConn bench was the deciding factor in the contest, outscoring UA, 32-10, to offset Michael Wright's 18-point, 10-rebound effort. In his first game this season, Loren Woods totaled nine points, three blocks and two rebounds.
Scouting Illinois: Illinois enters play this afternoon with a 7-2 record and No. 5 national ranking after an 87-79 OT win over Seton Hall last Saturday in Champaign. UI is averaging 81.9 points per game and outscores the opposition by a 14.2 ppg margin. The ball club is also solid on the glass with a +8.3 rebound margin, while limiting the opposition to a 36.9 field goal percentage. Individually, Illinois is led by Frank Williams' 15.3 ppg average. Three Illinois players average more than 5.5 boards per game.
The Series: This morning's game is the seventh game in the series with each team posting three wins. Arizona has won the last two meetings in the series, which dates back to December 1973, including the 79-76 win on Nov. 22 in the Maui Invitational championship game. Arizona is 2-0 in series games played in Tucson, 0-3 in Champaign and 1-0 in neutral-site games.
Last UA-UI Meeting: On Nov. 22 at the Maui Invitational, Arizona withstood a furious Illinois comeback in the game's final 1:39, as the Illini used a 14-2 run to cut a 12-point UA lead to just one with 12 seconds remaining. Two free throws by Jason Gardner, who finished with a career-high 25 points, and a blocked shot by Luke Walton in the final seconds sealed the win for the Wildcats. Michael Wright earned tournament MVP honors after his 16-point, nine-rebound effort.
Team Leader: In Arizona's only game last week, Wright posted game-high totals of 18 points and 10 rebounds in UA's 71-69 loss at No. 15 Connecticut. It was Wright's third double-double of the year and the 28th of his career. In typical Wright fashion, he was efficient from the field and the line, connecting on 4-of-6 FG attempts and 10-of-11 FT attempts. Six of his 10 boards were on the offensive glass and he added a steal in 31 minutes of action. He is the only Wildcat player to score in double figures in all seven games and leads the team in scoring (17.9 ppg), rebounding (10.3 rpg), and ranks second in FT percentage (.849) and FG percentage (.571). He is the Pac-10 player to be ranked among the top five in scoring (3rd), rebounding (1st) and field goal percentage (5th).
Make a Connection: Arizona was outshot from the field for the third time this year in Saturday's loss at UConn, 49.0-41.8. Two of those games have resulted in losses for the Wildcats (Purdue/UConn). Only UA's Nov. 29 win over Gonzaga bucks the trend (52.5-48.4) as Arizona used a 34-14 free throw advantage in the 101-87 victory. The Cats' 75.0 free throw percentage leads the Pac-10.
On the Rebound: Led by Michael Wright's 10 rebounds, Arizona was able to outrebound Connecticut, 33-32, on Saturday. The Cats have outrebounded five of seven opponents this season. Only Gonzaga and UA's next opponent, Illinois, have held an advantage on the glass against Arizona. Incidentally, Arizona leads the Pac-10 Conference with its +9.1 rebound margin.
Role Reversal: Saturday's two-point loss at UConn marked the first time this season that Arizona has been outscored (19-18) and outshot (28-24) from the free throw line. On the year, UA has made almost as many free throws (138) as the opposition has attempted (140).
Just Doing His Job: Jason Gardner matched a season-high with six assists (with only one turnover) against UConn, marking the fourth time this season he has tallied at least five assists in a game. In his career, UA is 15-4 when Gardner has at least five assists in a game. Gardner also leads the Cats with 21 treys and 28 assists.
Picking Up Where They Left Off: Last season the guard duo of Gilbert Arenas and Jason Gardner combined to average 28.0 points per game. In the last three games, UA's guard combination is averaging 29.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists. Gardner is the only Arizona player to hit at least two treys in each game this season, while Arenas ranks second on the squad with a 15.9 ppg scoring average.
A Key To Victory: One simple key to victory may be the play of Richard Jefferson. In Arizona's four wins in which he has seen action, Jefferson averages 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and shoots .532 from the floor (25-of-47), including .400 (6-of-15) from three-point range. In the two losses, he averages 4.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and shoots .214 (3-of-14), including 0-for-2 from three-point range.
A Late Arrival: In his first action since Feb. 17 of last season, Loren Woods totaled nine points, two rebounds and three blocked shots in 34 minutes. The three blocks equals a 2000-01 UA season high.
Finding the Range: After struggling a bit from the field in Maui, sophomore Gilbert Arenas has been much more accurate of late. In his last four games, Arenas is a combined 26-of-53 (.491) from the field. It has raised his season FG percentage to .469 which is 16 points higher than his .453 FG percentage last year. He also connects on 37.8 percent (14-of-37) of his three-point attempts, which ranks second on the team.
Looking to Bounce Back: Despite putting in a sub-par performance at Connecticut (two points, one rebound, five fouls), senior Eugene Edgerson is the driving force behind Arizona's success. His willingness to dive for loose balls and grab tough rebounds is invaluable. On the year, a career-best 7.4 points and 5.0 rebounds (ranks third on the squad). He tallied five points, three boards and an assist in the previous meeting with Illinois.
Leading the Way: In earning Pac-10 Player-of-the-Week honors last week, sophomore Luke Walton is getting recognized for his efforts. The forward leads the team 15 steals, ranks second with 24 assists, and is averaging 7.3 points per game.
Accepting Charity: Through seven games this season, Arizona's Michael Wright has practically lived at the free throw line. In leading the team with a 17.9 ppg scoring average, Wright is averaging 7.8 free throw attempts per game and is successful 84.9 percent of the time (including 10-of-11 at UConn). Thirty-six percent of his offensive output comes from the line. By comparison, he averages just 10 field goal attempts per game and got just a season-low six at Connecticut.
Forcing Turnovers: In its last three games, the Arizona defense has forced a total of 60 turnovers, including a opponent-high 24 against Saint Mary's on Dec. 2. On the year, UA has forced the opposition into 130 miscues, an average of 18.6 per game. To date, UA has a +2.6 turnover margin.
Drawing A Crowd: Through seven games this year, the Wildcats have played to 100.4 percent capacity in four different venues this season. Every neutral-site or road venue has been a sellout (Maui Invitational, Conseco Fieldhouse, Gampel Pavilion), while the team has played to 99.3 percent capacity in two home games.
Against the Big 10: Since the 1989-90 campaign, Arizona has an 8-4 record in its last 12 games against Big 10 foes. In that time, UA is 4-1 vs. Michigan, 1-0 vs. Illinois, 1-0 vs. Iowa, 1-1 vs. Purdue, 0-1 vs. Minnesota and 0-1 vs. Wisconsin. As mentioned earlier, the Cats are 23-23 all-time against the Big 10, including 1-1 this season.
Frequent Fliers: Building a non-conference schedule with quality opponents is nothing new for Arizona, but facing the majority of them away from home can be a challenge. If you combine the season-opening road trip to Maui and Indianapolis with trips to Storrs, Conn., and Chicago, the Arizona Wildcats will have traveled a total of 16,502 miles in its first six games away from home.
Movin' On Up: In scoring a game-high 25 points in the win over Gonzaga, Michael Wright eclipsed the 1,000 point mark in his career. His basket at 18:44 of the first half gave him 1,001 career points and made him the 29th player in UA history to top the 1,000 point barrier. With 18 vs. Connecticut, Wright now has 1,055 career points and is tied with Matt Othick (1989-92) for 28th place on the school's all-time scoring list. Mike Bibby (1996-98) is next on the list with 1,061 points
Call them favorites: In the Pac-10 Conference's annual poll of media members, the Arizona Wildcats were a unanimous choice to finish first in the 2000-01 men's basketball race (see poll at left). Arizona received all 29 first place votes and 290 points overall to finish ahead of runner-up Stanford. In the last 11 years, the preseason winner of the poll has won or shared the actual league title nine times. UA has been the preseason favorite six other times.
Early Signees: Coach Olson and his staff signed five players to National Letters-of-Intent during the November early signing period: Wil Bynum (5-10, 170, G, Chicago, Ill./Crane Tech Prep), Channing Frye (6-10, 230, C, Phoenix, Ariz./St. Mary's H.S.), Isaiah Fox (6-9, 255, C, Santa Monica, Calif./Crossroads H.S.), Dennis Latimore (6-8, 230, F, Halsted, Kan./Halsted H.S.) and Salim Stoudamire (6-2, 175, G, Lake Oswego, Ore./Lake Oswego H.S.).
Up Next: Arizona returns to action in Tucson on Wed., Dec. 20, as the squad hosts Louisiana State. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. MST and will be televised on Fox Sports Net. It is the first of five straight home games for the Wildcats.