Wildcats heed advice from some friends
NEW YORK -- Sometimes, it doesn't matter how many times a coach tells a team to play unselfishly and to look for each other by moving the basketball on offense.
Sometimes, the players need to hear it from their peers for the harsh reality to click.
That's where Damon Stoudamire and Will Bynum come into play for this Arizona team. Stoudamire, the oft-troubled Portland Trail Blazer, put in a call to his cousin Salim earlier Tuesday to discuss his alma mater and its selfish play of late. Salim Stoudamire took the same call from Bynum, the former guard who split on Arizona a year ago to transfer to Georgia Tech, where he'll be eligible next week.
Salim Stoudamire said both guards watched the Wildcats lose to Florida 78-77 in Springfield, Mass. on Nov. 28, and then win by a point in Saint Louis, 68-67, on Saturday.
So, Stoudamire delivered the message to his teammates before Tuesday's game against Texas in the headline game of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. The words, oddly enough of Damon Stoudamire and Bynum, apparently had the Arizona players on edge.
They listened. And they did as they were told. They played their most unselfish game to date and ran away from Texas for most of the game before holding off the Longhorns' late rally for a much-needed 91-83 victory.
"When other guys tell you that you're being selfish, you take that into consideration," said Arizona sophomore forward Andre Iguodala, who finished with his first career triple-double -- 13 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Iguodala had no idea he had a triple-double until after the game, when he reacted with a "Wow!" before he quickly credited his teammates.
"Salim got us together before the game and made sure we all heard what those guys were saying about us," Iguodala said.
Salim Stoudamire said he gathered the players to relay the messages. It's not as though he doesn't have a Hall of Fame coach to give the team a lecture every day. But, for whatever reason, the words of wisdom from peers carried weight.
Arizona had been looking for some sort of guidance the past few weeks after losing Isaiah Fox to a season-ending knee injury. That injury was supposed to decimate the Wildcats' frontcourt. Not quite.
Iguodala was sensational as a driving, slashing small forward and resident power player -- 6-foot-4 Hassan Adams -- scored 30 and grabbed 10 rebounds. The Wildcats are hardly frontcourt-challenged when the athletic Iguodala and Adams pair up to help out Channing Frye (15 points) like that on a given night.
The Texas coaching staff talked about the mismatches Adams presents, considering he's a power player at 6-4. But Adams is unlike any forward in the country. He can play any position on the floor and play it well.
"I'm just a player," Adams said of his own game.
"He's a matchup problem, that's for sure," Texas coach Rick Barnes said.
Barnes thought he had some issues for Arizona with senior point guard Royal Ivey back in New York. But he was admittedly a bit askew for this homecoming. Ivey was 3-of-15 from the field, and committed four turnovers, which seemed to cancel out his five steals.
"Royal has to slow down," Barnes said. "He was trying to do too much. The same thing for Brandon (Mouton, who was 3-for-16)."
Texas didn't expect its seniors to flop Tuesday night. In fact, the only player who was assertive and played, well, like Adams and Iguodala, was freshman P.J. Tucker. Tucker, who is easily one of the top 10 freshmen in the country, was 7-of-9 for 16 points with 14 boards, including 10 on the offensive backboard.
"P.J. Tucker didn't have a hard time getting the ball because he wants the ball," Barnes said.
Barnes later lamented that he has to get Tucker more time, which means his 20 minutes likely will come at a starter's expense -- like, say, Brad Buckman (0 for 5 on FGs, 2 points) or even senior James Thomas (eight points in 17 minutes of largely ineffective play).
"I was trying to do too much," Ivey said of his game. "I've got to get into the lane easier. I was pressing too much."
Ivey and Texas are glad they'll have another chance to redeem themselves in New York when they come back to play Duke on Dec. 20.
Providence's next chance to show the nation it is a legit team will also come against Texas, but not until Jan. 5 in Providence as part of ESPN's first Big Monday.
But, the Friars took advantage of one of their only two ESPN appearances. Junior guard Ryan Gomes said the team looked at the Illinois game as even more important after losing Saturday at Rhode Island. Providence knew the window to create a lasting impression to the nation was closing.
Gomes proved he's among the nation's best frontline players with 24 points in a 70-51 victory over Illinois. Even more impressive than Gomes' play and Marcus Douthit's six blocks was the Friars' zone.
Providence didn't use it much two years ago when it had John Linehan's on-the-ball defense. Linehan, a Big East defensive player of the year, hawked defenders like no other point guard. But the past two seasons, Jim Boeheim-disciple Tim Welsh put it in play. Welsh recruited the way Boeheim did, with long, agile, athletic wings and forwards such as Gomes, Douthit and Rob Sanders to make the zone extremely impressive.
The Illini said they couldn't find the gaps in the zone, and they did look lost. Illinois guard Deron Williams went as far as to say the Illini quit as the game got out of hand. That strong statement wasn't a total shock to the staff because the coaches felt as though the team didn't do as good a job respecting Providence. Illinois coach Bruce Weber said the Illini weren't buying his words about how good Providence was after he told them Mercer and Arkansas were worthy opponents before Illinois blew them both out.
But the Illini were believers in the postgame after Providence's activity, and aggressive play after being down 12-0, left Illinois stunned.
When asked how teams can figure out the zone, Providence guard Donnie McGrath said he wouldn't say. He said he's not about to give away the secret. Welsh said beating his zone is the same as trying to break down Syracuse's. That means making shots (Illinois was 2-of-15 on 3s), getting second shots (Illinois had only 12 second-chance points) and making sure teams attack it by driving against it (the Illini kept launching shots from the perimeter).
"Maybe everyone will say something about us nationally now," Gomes said. "I think we did something to put us on the map."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.