NCAA BK

BURLISON: Arizona has Walton to thank for Pac-10 title

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Frank Burlison

 
   
 

LOS ANGELES

Suggestion to the coach of the team that draws USC in the first round of the NCAA tournament: Give Lute Olson a call in Tucson and ask if he¿ll let you borrow Luke Walton for a game. Then, once you¿ve got him in uniform and on the court against the Trojans and their psyche-rattling full-court defensive pressure, put the son of the Hall of Fame hoopster-turned sarcasm-dripping broadcaster in the middle of the floor, and have another player pass the ball to him as quickly as possible. Suddenly, there¿d be no more problems against the USC press. Oh, if life were only that simple for the folks who¿re going to have the misfortune of hooking up with coach Henry Bibby¿s Trojans in the first, and, very likely, the second rounds of the tourney ... Olson, naturally, isn¿t about to let his best player out of his sight for very long. In fact, early Saturday evening he whisked Walton and the rest of his players away to LAX almost immediately after the Wildcats¿ second-half dissection of the Trojans gave them an 81-71 victory in the Pac-10 tourney final and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament that goes along with it. Lute and his lads had a 7:30 Tucson-bound flight to catch but, as his players were boarding a bus, he stuck around just long enough to wax poetic about the play of Walton. And there was plenty to wax over, considering Walton scored 13 points and doled out eight assists over the final 20 minutes to as the ¿Cats outscored the Trojans by 18 points. ¿First of all, he¿s an incredible competitor,¿ Olson said in his usual very measured and precise fashion. ¿And he has an unbelievable feel. What he does, you don¿t coach. His reactions are in his genes.¿ Now it¿s time for an editorial observation: The guy is the best passer in college basketball. At least, he¿s better than anyone I¿ve seen throwing passes in college games recently — Joey Harrington and David Carr included. OK, back to what the participants thought: ¿Luke Walton is a big target when they put him in the middle (of the floor),¿ USC point guard Brandon Granville said. ¿We didn¿t take him away (translated: deny him the basketball) and he did a good job of getting the ball to people.¿ Not only did Walton negate the harassing pressure that led to 10 Arizona turnovers in the first half but, once the Wildcats got into their half-court offense, Walton — as good a definition of a ¿point-forward¿ as we¿ll find in the college game — either slashed to the hoop for layups or found Jason Gardner and Salim Stoudamire for some deep, deep jumpers. They split four 3-pointers in the second half, after Stoudamire — the freshman cousin of former Wildcat/current Portland Trail Blazer Damon — had snapped his left wrist ever-so-sharply for three of them. It would have been great to hear Luke Walton talk about his dazzling performance — like pops, he enjoys talking about basketball — but he had a flight to catch. Oh, well ... watching was good enough ... uh, unless you were watching from the Cardinal and Gold perspective of USC, that is.

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Olson didn¿t¿ want to pontificate on his team¿s likely seed when the 65-team bracket is announced Sunday night — even if he didn¿t have one foot toward the to exit to the interview room as he was being asked about it. ¿I don¿t know,¿ he said. ¿I¿ll leave it to the people who study it more than I do but, with our strength of schedule, I would anticipate a No. 2 or no lower than a No. 3.¿ Olson, along with Mike Montgomery of Stanford, has been a long-time opponent of the return of the Pac-10 tournament, which was played for the first time since 1990. ¿I¿m still not changing my opinion of it,¿ he said quickly, with asked if the way his team performed over three days during double-figure point victories over Arizona State, Cal and the Trojans had altered his perspective. ¿We should be thinking about our student-athletes and not about money.¿ He was referring to the class time — three days¿ worth, apparently — that his players missed to play in the tournament. Each of the conference¿s 10 schools — even Washington State and Oregon State, which didn¿t make the cut for the eight-team field — are expected to realize about $220,000 out of the guarantee that the conference received from the tournament promoters and sponsors. Frank Burlison can be reached at his e-mail address, fburlison@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Arizona, Southern California

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