Other 'Cats are raising Ariz., too 3 All-Americans get notice, but inside men also a powerful force

Terps' edge uncertain

Davison, Bramlett 'in shadow' of stars

March 17, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

The big men on Arizona's basketball team know what it's like to play guard for the Denver Broncos. Unless you get a dunk in the Final Four or a pancake in the Super Bowl, do you exist?

"People in America like scorers, let's face it," said Bennett Davison, the power forward for the Wildcats. "Defense is what wins championships, but if you score points, you get recognized. No matter what we do, we're still in the shadow of Mike, Miles and Michael."

That would be Mike Bibby, one of the top candidates for the assorted national Player of the Year awards; backcourt partner Miles Simon, who was only the MVP in last year's Final Four; and Michael Dickerson, on a mission ever since he was dissatisfied with his role in Arizona's stretch run to the 1997 NCAA title.

The talent on the perimeter -- three of the first 10 players on the All-Americateam -- makes Arizona an 8 1/2 -point favorite to handle Maryland in the West Regional semifinals in Anaheim, Calif., on Thursday (10: 25 p.m.), and continue its drive toward a repeat national championship.

The Terps would appear to have the edge at the power forward and center spots, but Rodney Elliott will have his hands full with Davison and Eugene Edgerson, and Obinna Ekezie will run into a solid center in A. J. Bramlett.

Arizona's frontcourt gets lost in the glare thrown off by Lute Olson's scoring options. A fourth player made Arizona's honor roll, as reserve guard Jason Terry was named Player of the Week in the Pac-10 in December. Even Josh Pastner, a walk-on guard who wants a job as an assistant coach, gets more publicity than the big men.

Davison wasn't a nobody when he arrived in Tucson. Renowned as a defender, he hasn't scored in double figures for the Wildcats since January, but he averaged 19 points in 1995-96, when he was the national junior college Player of the Year.

Olson says that Davison runs the floor as fast as any player he has ever had at Arizona, where a national-best winning percentage of .818 (297-66) since 1987 has been built on speed.

How quick are the Wildcats? Davison, 6 feet 8 and 212 pounds, had nine steals in a win over Stanford three weeks ago.

Washington's 7-foot center Todd MacCulloch was the Pac-10's leading scorer and rebounder until he ran into Davison and was )) limited to four points and three rebounds.

Davison yearns for a rematch with North Carolina's Antawn Jamison in the national semifinals, as foul trouble limited him to 10 minutes in their meeting last March.

Bramlett will give up nearly 40 pounds to Ekezie, but the 6-11, 217-pound junior keeps beefing up his game. The improvement he made from his freshman to sophomore seasons was as big a factor as any in the Wildcats' NCAA title, and he has become more of an offensive option.

When the Wildcats lost to Duke last Thanksgiving weekend in the Maui Invitational, it wasn't Bramlett's fault. He had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and limited Elton Brand to 13 and four. He's averaging 10.4 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds.

"My confidence level is a lot higher than it was last year," Bramlett said. "I've tried to give us more of a scoring presence inside. You add Jason Terry and myself to Miles and the two Mikes, and we're a very difficult team to contain."

Dickerson said "that this is the kind of team, if one player is on, we feed that person," but Davison, who has made 58.5 percent of his field-goal attempts, said, "I'm never fed when I'm hot."

The priorities for the Arizona big men remain rebounding and defending, details that fuel what is a lethal transition game.

Despite playing in a conference that includes four of the Sweet 16, Arizona averages 92.1 points per game.

"Defensively, those guys are the key to everything we do," Simon said. "If a guard gets beat on the perimeter, they're the ones that are there, backing us up."

Well, well. Seems like somebody has noticed the Arizona big men.

NOTES: After this afternoon's practice, the Terps will depart for Anaheim. Their flight home from Sacramento didn't arrive at BWI until approximately 6 a.m. Sunday. This is a change in routine for coach Gary Williams, as he kept his team on the West Coast in 1995, while waiting for its third-round game against Connecticut. The Terps lost, but there's more to this arrangement than superstition. The Terps were on semester break that year, as opposed to facing mid-semester exams this week.

Maryland vs. Arizona

What: NCAA tournament West Regional semifinal

Where: Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, Calif.

When: Thursday, 10: 25 p.m.

Seeds/records: Md., No. 4, 21-10; Arizona, No. 1, 29-4.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)

` Line Arizona by 8 1/2

Arizona at a glance

Location: Tucson, Ariz.

Enrollment: 33,504

Record: 29-4

Conference: 17-1 in Pacific-10

Coach: Lute Olson, 372-112 in 15 seasons, 564-204 overall

NCAA appearances: 17

NCAA history: The Wildcats are the defending tournament champions. Last year was their third Final Four appearance. They are in the tournament for a 14th straight time, and this is the seventh time in 11 seasons in which Olson has advanced his team to the Sweet 16.

Top scorer: F Michael Dickerson, 18.5

Top rebounder: C A. J. Bramlett, 7.5

Top assists: G Mike Bibby, 5.9

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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