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Wildcats Star Wears the Frown

Arizona 85, Alabama-Birmingham 63

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page E08

BOISE, Idaho, March 19 -- He hobbled down the halls of the Taco Bell Arena Saturday night with bags of ice strapped to his knees and a frown plastered on his face. Arizona guard Salim Stoudamire, with 28 points behind him and his team going to the round of 16, nonetheless looked as if this had been the worst day of his life.

Sometimes he gets like this, sullen and disinterested. His attitude has led to two team suspensions over his career and a warning from Coach Lute Olson that if it didn't improve, he would be kicked off the team.

Arizona's Salim Stoudamire reacts as Coach Lute Olson looks on in the closing moments of their 85-63 win over Alabama-Birmingham. (Joe Cavaretta - AP)

But the Wildcats also need his jump shot, a smooth, arcing heave that falls gently through the rim. Without it, there would have been no Pac-10 regular season championship, no third seed in the NCAA tournament and certainly no 85-63 victory over Alabama-Birmingham that has again taken them to the round of 16.

Still, Stoudamire looked as if this was all a burden as he made his way into the locker room last night.

"I don't really care about personal accolades," the senior guard said. "I want to win. I want to go out a winner; that's the most important thing."

Right now he seems to be their best chance.

Last night was all about him. It had to be against the swarming, attacking defense of UAB, which feeds on indecision and insecurity. In the first few minutes of the game, UAB had forced Stoudamire into five turnovers.

Then Olson pulled him aside. Relax, the coach told his guard. The words seemed to work.

When they needed him most, Stoudamire was on fire. After the five early turnovers, he didn't make another. And as UAB collapsed inside on Arizona's forwards and centers, he was left open to shoot. Suddenly he couldn't miss, hitting five three-pointers, many in the second half when the Wildcats began to blow the game apart.

"I was a little antsy to start the game," he said. "But then I began to get into the flow."

UAB tried to overwhelm Arizona the way it had in its first-round game with LSU, sending waves of players scattering around the ball hoping for quick turnovers. But playing Stoudamire turned out to not be as simple as beating LSU. He was quicker than the LSU guards, so too were his teammates Mustafa Shakur and Hassan Adams.

Again and again, the Blazers set up their press, hoping to force the Arizona players into mistakes. Only Arizona didn't make many. Instead, to get the ball upcourt, it used its biggest players Ivan Radenovic and Channing Frye to stand near midcourt and catch passes over the waving arms of the shorter Alabama-Birmingham players. The tactic worked. Not only was Arizona able to break the press, but it was often able to get easy layups.

Ironically, as the game wore on, UAB was the team that seemed to grow tired as the size of Arizona wore it down.

Trailing by nine at the start of the second half, the Blazers tried to piece together baskets in an attempt to get back into the game. For a few moments they had success with Marques Lewis hitting a pair of jump shots and Donell Taylor scoring on a layup to cut the deficit to five.

The run was short-lived, however, because the UAB players were unable to sustain any kind of offense. If their defense isn't feeding their offense with steals and rebounds they can't score. At one point, as Arizona started to pull away, the Blazers missed three three-point attempts on a single possession. With 15:00 left in the game, they had made 1 of 16 three-point attempts.

"I knew they couldn't keep that intensity all night," Stoudamire said.

Alabama-Birmingham did not draw close again the rest of the night. And Arizona and its sullen star headed to Chicago.

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