December 20, 2006
Wildcats excited to take on Tigers
Considering that Arizona has had one of the more difficult schedules in the country, it is a surprise that Memphis will be the first ranked team that the Wildcats have played thus far this season.
Although there are some differing views, the Wildcats are fully aware that Memphis has the potential to be the toughest game of the early season.
"This is probably the biggest game for us," Chase Budinger said during a Tuesday press conference. "They are a ranked opponent and we have really been doing our best to prepare for them."
Marcus Williams says that whether or not Memphis is the best team the Wildcats have faced is yet to be determined. However, he does admit that the Tigers will certainly be one of the tougher opponents Arizona has faced this season.
"They have got a lot of tools," he said. "They have shooters, penetrators, and they are tough. It is going to be a good look for us. They did really well last year. Obviously they are a pretty veteran team as far as knowing how to win, so it is going to be a good test for us."
One of the keys for Arizona will be the play of the defense. Mustafa Shakur believes that the Memphis offense revolves around the guards, thus making the defensive strategy somewhat obvious.
"We watched tape," Shakur said. "They are really a guard oriented team. Everything pretty much runs through them. They create their own shots and shots for others. The post play is really based off of what the guards create."
Although Memphis will be a tough game, the tempo that the Tigers play at is something that seems to really fit into the way that Arizona plays.
Budinger is confident that not many teams throughout the country have the personnel to match the Wildcats in an up-tempo game.
"When teams like running, it works right into our game plan," he said. "That is exactly what we want to do, which is get out and run. I think we are the best team that does that and I don't think teams can keep up with us.
"I think we are such a good conditioned team that other teams will start getting tired near the end of games and I don't think that will happen with us."
In addition to defense, rebounding should play a big factor in Wednesday's game. Memphis boasts 6-foot-9 Joey Dorsey, a forward averaging 9.7 rebounds a game. In addition to Dorsey, the Tigers also have 6-foot-11 Kareem Cooper, a player that could pose match up problems for Arizona.
With that being said, Arizona's Williams has been on a tear as far as rebounding goes. He pulled down 16 against San Diego State and followed that with a 12-rebound performance against Houston.
"I think you kind of have to look at it as you know where your teammates are going to shoot the ball," Williams said of his improved rebounding. "You know your teammates the best as far as getting the offensive rebound so you can kind of time that and that is the advantage you have over the defenders.
"As far as grabbing rebounds on the defensive end, that is kind of just more about desire and getting in there and banging."
According to Williams, containing Cooper is simply a matter of Arizona playing to its strengths.
"You can't teach size," Williams said. "Obviously we don't have anybody that big. It is going to be about desire and using your quickness to your advantage. Obviously being that big he won't be as quick to certain spots as I will or Ivan (Radenovic) will and you just can not get into a shoving match because you are not going to win."
Williams says that the team is fully aware that Memphis is going to be difficult to contain on the glass, but believes that the Wildcats are fully capable of doing so.
"We watched game tape and they have some big rebounders," he said. "We just have to be conscious of boxing out and being tough down there and keeping that aggressive attitude we have had so far this year."
Budinger agrees with Williams, saying that rebounding will have to be a team effort if Arizona is to succeed.
"Coach O has really been emphasizing our rebounding and getting into position," he said. "A lot of help defense and everything like that. These guys are big guys and they have some really big guys down low and we just have to work as a team and box them out."
Thus far this season, Arizona's success has been generated due in large part to the improved play of point guard Mustafa Shakur. Shakur attributes his improved play to the fact that he is hesitating much less then he has in the past.
"If I hold back just a little bit it is not helping my teammates and it is not helping myself," he said. "It is not going to help the team win ball games if I hold back."
Shakur has also seemed to improve his decision making skills, something that should prove valuable against a Memphis team that really likes to put pressure on the ball.
"In the summer I worked on pulling up for that shot for that 10 or 12 foot jump shot and when I am hitting that it kind of gets the defenders off guard," he said. "They don't know if I am going to the basket or if I am going to pull up or make a pass. That is three different things I can possibly do, so it helps."
Williams had nothing but praise for Shakur, even going as far as saying that he may currently be the best point guard in the country.
"He's been playing really well," Williams said. "Definitely he has been playing awesome on offense and as far as taking the shots that have been there, driving the basket and dishing the ball he has been phenomenal.
"He has kind of solidified himself as one of the top point guards in the country as of right now and if anybody can name someone who is better than him I'd like to hear it.
"Defensively he has really stepped up and he is being really aggressive and pushing the ball every time, keeping us going as far as playing the Arizona style of getting up and down and scoring a high number of points."
Memphis head coach John Calipari recently said that Arizona would be the number one team in the country had it not been for foul trouble in the Virginia game.
Upon hearing those comments, Shakur had a tough time disagreeing with the veteran coach.
"I definitely really agree with what Coach Cal said about that," Shakur said. "My teammates talk about that all the time but I try not to because it is one of those games where the coaches say that you learn more in your loss then you do sometimes in a bad win. If we came out on top maybe we slip up and lose one of these games that we just won."
Whether Arizona is ranked as the tenth best team in the country or the first, it is tough to argue against the idea that Memphis is the best team that the Wildcats have faced thus far.
If Arizona is going to put any doubts to rest, the Wildcats must come out with a win against the Tigers.
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