The one thing you can’t overlook about the Arizona Wildcats throughout the years has been their exemplary guard play. I mean, these boys had some relentless gunners–no pun intended on Gilbert Arenas. Lute Olson took this team to the top of college basketball with a plethora of shoot-first guards like Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby, Jerryd Bayless and Jason Terry. While Arizona is dubbed “Point Guard U” because of their immense guard play, Olson also had big men who were vital in shaping the success of the program.
Big boys like Loren Woods and Channing Frye dismantled opposing frontcourts with their length. We can’t forget about the hybrid players who savored in filling up the stat sheets on a regular basis–names like Luke Walton and Andre Iguodala.
With 25 consecutive NCAA appearances from 1985-2009, Lute Olson’s legacy is embedded as the program’s greatest coach. Now that Olson is gone, a new legacy is being written by Sean Miller, who currently has his Wildcats as a No. 1 seed in this year’s tourney. To commemorate their success, here’s our top five Wildcats since 2000.
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5a. Derrick Williams
Do me a favor. Let’s forget about Derrick Williams’ NBA career. His blunders as a pro aren’t dismissible, but in this case will be because of his monstrous play at Arizona. Sean Miller struck gold when Derrick Williams walked onto campus. The boy was everything you wanted. He was a forward with a flawless face-up game and seamless stroke from deep. He teased the nation his freshman year when he averaged 16 and seven and was named onto the All-Pac 10 First Team.
Despite Arizona failing to reach the tournament his first year, he would make it up to Wildcat nation by vastly improving his play. He upped his efforts of 16 and seven to 20 and eight. His statement game came in the tournament where he crushed Duke single-handedly with 32 points and 13 rebounds in the Sweet Sixteen. That year, he was named Pac-10 Player of the Year, All-Pac 10 First Team and was Second Team All-American.
5b. Luke Walton
Luke Walton didn’t astound you with athleticism. He wasn’t going to wow you with jaw-dropping crossovers. He provided you with his IQ and basketball acumen. He provided everything for the Wildcats during his tenure there. He could shoot. He could rebound. He could pass. Hell, he played a little bit of defense too. The proof is in the pudding.
The former two-time All Pac-10 First Teamer had a career year during his junior year where he averaged close to 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists, with two steals and a block. He was a point forward who not only Olson but America loved.
4. Channing Frye
Frye was so potent at 6-11. He was able to serve you in a variety of ways. The stout frontcourt player had a penchant for obliterating opposing big men with his face-up game. Frye’s ability to shoot on the perimeter enabled Arizona to be one of the best inside-outside teams in the country. His junior and senior seasons were where he capitalized the most, averaging close to 16 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. During his four-year tenure with the Wildcats, he shot a sweltering 56 percent from the field. He also accrued All-Pac 10 First Team honors his final two years, making him one of the best bigs to touch down in Arizona.
We also can’t forget about his 24-point, 12-rebound and 6-block game against Illinois in the Elite 8 in 2005.
3. Hassan Adams
Salim Stoudamire‘s running mate for three seasons, Hassan Adams was a precocious scorer. He was able to destroy defenses with punishing moves to the basket. Despite shooting a paltry 30 percent from deep, he still managed to shoot around 50 percent for his four-year career, with a resounding 54 percent coming his junior year. His sophomore and senior season proved to be his best, as he averaged over 17 a game those two years, shooting better than 50 percent and racking up close to two steals a game. As a whole, Adams would finish his career seventh all time in the points department with 1,818 and second in steals at 238.
2. Salim Stoudamire
Before Mark Jackson coined the cogent phrase “Mama, there go that man”, Salim Stoudamire was indeed that man back in Arizona. From distance, Salim was a perennial marksman. The cousin of Damon Stoudamire instilled a sense of bravado and swag when he played for Lute. The man wasn’t scared to shoot it from 30. His insatiable desire to get buckets was untamable. He, alongside Hassan Adams, was an indomitable force offensively.
Dating back to his freshman year, he raised his stats year by year from 12.8 to 13.0 to 16.0 to 18.0 a game. It gets even better. In his senior year, Stoudamire did the unthinkable a la Alicia Keys. He shot 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from three, and 90 percent from the line, all while taking his team to the Elite 8. He also was awarded All-Pac 10 First Team, AP Second Team All-American, and led the country in three-point percentage. He also would finish second behind Steve Kerr in Wildcat history in three-point percentage at a blistering 45.8 while finishing fourth all time in points at 1,960.
In case you wondered how he took this team to the Elite 8, he sprayed OK State with a late fadeaway to seal the deal. Swag.
1. Jason Gardner
Jason Gardner was filthy. I don’t mean putrid or rancid. I mean, he was a Pac-10 killer. He had ice water in his veins. The 5-10 point guard was a mammoth. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? No. Gardner indulged in victimizing his foes with his breathtaking crossovers. With Mike Bibby and Jason Terry NBA-bound, Gardner was anointed as the next lead guard in Point Guard U. How did he fair during his time? Try being an All-American in 2003, the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award winner in ’03 and National Freshman of the Year in 2000. His No. 22 is now retired by the school.
The tandem of Gardner and Arenas in the backcourt was arguably the most lethal in the country at that time. His junior year, he averaged over 20 points a game, and was a marksman from deep.
He would also lead his team to the NCAA Championship Game in 2001, where they lost to the Duke Blue Devils.
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