Olson rethinking Arizona's schedule policy

Updated: March 21, 2006, 8:58 PM ET
Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. -- With his team playing its best basketball at the end of an otherwise difficult season, Arizona coach Lute Olson is painting a bright picture for the program's future.

In his wrap-up news conference Tuesday, Olson also said he was rethinking his philosophy of playing mostly tough pre-conference games. It might be better, he said, to schedule more home games against lesser opponents to beef up the record when the NCAA Tournament slots are chosen.

"Washington and ourselves split and we went a game deeper in the league tournament," Olson said. "Maybe it is best to play 10 out of your first 11 at home. They say they're not going to be influenced by a team's record, but I'm not ready to buy that."

The Wildcats, Olson noted, played five of their 11 nonconference games at home.

Arizona (20-13) was seeded 10th in the Minneapolis Region. Washington (26-6) was seeded fifth in the Washington, D.C., region and plays Connecticut in the regional semifinals Friday night.

Despite his swipe at scheduling, Olson confirmed that he is trying to work out a home-and-home series against Villanova, the team that knocked the Wildcats out of the NCAA Tournament with an 82-78 victory in Philadelphia on Sunday.

The 71-year-old coach acknowledged that his team could have avoided its tough NCAA assignment by playing better earlier in the season, and he looked forward to what he believes will be a "quick, really exciting team" next fall.

The Wildcats lose all-conference guard-forward Hassan Adams and troublesome guard Chris Rodgers, but guard Jawann McClellan will be back after missing virtually all of the season, first because of ineligibility and then injury.

Arizona also welcomes one of the nation's top recruits in 6-foot-7 Chase Budinger from Carlsbad, Calif. With anticipated improvement of freshman Marcus Williams, along with the return of Mustafa Shakur, Ivan Radenovic and Kirk Walters, Olson likes the looks of the coming season.

He said Shakur and Williams might think about going to the NBA, but he believes both will be back. Shakur, who will be a senior, played the best of his career in this year's NCAA Tournament in front of family and friends in Philadelphia, Olson said.

Williams was Arizona's No. 2 scorer this season at 13 points per game and averaged a team-leading 16.4 points the final 10 games. Williams is highly motivated to improve what is already an imposing game, the coach said.

"He's an absolute gym rat," Olson said.

Olson also raved about the improvement of Radenovic, who will be a senior.

"He's going to be a great leader for us next year," Olson said.

The coach predicted Adams will go around No. 20 in the NBA draft because teams prize the that kind of athleticism.

The Wildcats will leave for a two-week tour of Europe beginning May 21, with stops in Belgrade, Milan, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Barcelona and Paris. Ten games are planned, along with cultural and historical tours that are part of a university course the students are taking.

"A bonding experience for the guys," Olson said, "and I think it's going to be a great cultural experience. The class they're going to take, they'll spend the first week here studying about all the places they're going to visit."

In Yugoslavia, the players will have a home-cooked meal by Radenovic's mother, Olson said.

"I met with them as a group yesterday," Olson said, "and just talked about our foreign trip and the plans for the summer and the plans they needed to make. They're really fired up about it."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press