Will the overall balance of Arizona be enough to offset the long-range shooting of St. Francis?
According to the seedings in Thursday's West Regional game at the Huntsman Center the answer is a resounding "Yes," as in No. 2 seed, 8th-ranked team in the country against No. 15 seed, unranked opponent.The eighth-ranked University of Arizona Wildcats (26-6) are NCAA veterans. Seven times Coach Lute Olson has taken the Wildcats into NCAA play and in 1988 he took Arizona to the Final Four.
St. Francis (Pa.) (24-7) is making its first NCAA appearance.
Still, Olson is not about to look past the Red Flash to a second-round matchup between either Brigham Young or Virginia.
"They're in the tournament because they belong in the tournament," Olson said, "and our guys know that."
Olson's "guys" are a formidable group. The frontline has 6-11 Brian Williams, 6-11 Sean Rooks and 6-5 swingman Chris Mills, all averaging in double figures - Mills, 15.5 points a game, Williams 13.8 and Rooks 12.2
The guards are steady senior Matt Muehlebach averaging 10.2 and highly-recruited freshman Khalid Reeves, near double figures at 9.1.
The Wildcats also have a deep bench with seven-footer Ed Stokes leading the frontline reserves and Matt Othick the backcourt ones.
St. Francis, the alma mater of Jazz player personnel director Scott Layden, is led by 5-10 guard Mike Iuzzolinoand 6-5 forward Joe Anderson who both average over 20 points.
Iuzzolino and Anderson like to shoot from three-point range and Iuzzolino does it exceptionally well.
Iuzzolino shoots better than 50 percent from beyond the three-point line. Here are his numbers: 100 out of 187 for .535 percent. In addition to being one of the best three-point shooters in the country he's also one of the best at the free-throw line at .887 percent. He averages 24.3 points per game with a season high of 41.
Anderson is nearly as prolific as Iuzzolino. While his shooting percentage isn't as high, he still made almost 40 percent of his three-point attempts (65 for 163) and is a 75 percent free-throw shooter.
It would appear both will have to be shooting well for St. Francis to have a chance against Arizona. Either Iuzzolino or Anderson led the team in scoring each game during the season. No one else on Coach Jim Baron's club averages in double figures. And the Red Flash probably will not get a whole lot of offensive rebounds as their starting frontline is much smaller than Arizona's at 6-5 (Anderson), 6-5 (Tom Bennetch) and 6-7 (center Mike Fink). The other backcourt starter is John Hilvert, 6-3.
While the Red Flash don't have size, they do have experience - all of the starters are seniors with the exception of Fink. Because of that Baron thinks his team will not only give Arizona a good game but possibly beat the Wildcats.
"I think we have excellent balance . . . we're ready to take on the next challenge."
Presumably, Arizona's ready for the challenge as well.
The game will start approximately at 8:35 p.m. or a half hour after the completion of the BYU-Virginia game at 6:05.