December 18, 2006

UA has come a long way since Virginia

Looking back at Arizona's 93-90 season opening loss to Virginia, three important keys were established that would determine whether or not the Wildcats would become true national championship contenders.

1. Arizona would need point guard Mustafa Shakur to step up and be a leader, not a deficiency. Shakur missed all five shots he took in the Virginia game and while his six assists were nice, he also had four costly turnovers before fouling out.

2. The Wildcats had to learn to play defense. The team came into the season expecting to completely outrun and outscore every opponent, which was clearly the wrong attitude. Virginia's 57-point second half effort was an embarrassment.

3. The team absolutely needed to find help off its bench. The five bench players used in that game - Daniel Dillon, Nic Wise, Jordan Hill, Kirk Walters and J.P. Prince - combined for eight points off 3-12 shooting (2-9 from behind the arc) with eight combined points and 10 fouls.

So how has Arizona improved in each area?

First of all, Mustafa Shakur has finally emerged into one of the best point guards in the country. His 7.7 assists per game puts him in the top three nationally in that category and that's not the only statistic he's having a career year at.

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