Game Preview

March 13, 2001

REGION: Midwest, first round.

TIME: Friday, 3 p.m. EST.

SITE: Kemper Arena, Kansas City, MO.

TUCSON, Ariz. - Picked No. 1 in the preseason poll, Arizona endured a tumultuous seasonmired by suspensions, disappointing losses and tragedy. Now the team seems tobe coming together at just the right time.

The second-seeded Wildcats hope to continue their roll into the NCAAtournament as they take on Eastern Illinois in the opening round of the MidwestRegional.

A season that began with such promise turned sour very quickly with thesix-game suspension of star center Loren Woods for NCAA violations. Shortlythereafter, starting forward Richard Jefferson was slapped with a one-gamesuspension for accepting airfare to San Diego and a ticket to the NBA Finalsfrom Bill Walton.

Arizona was just 5-3 in mid-December and 8-5 after a home loss to Stanfordin early January, nearly falling out of the rankings altogether.

The new year also saw the Wildcats lose a significant member of the program,with Lute Olson's wife dying of ovarian cancer. The coach took a leave ofabsence but upon his return, Arizona started looking like the team that couldchallenge for a national championship.

'What doesn't break you makes you tougher,' Olson said.

The final week of the regular season saw another major change that may provecrucial to the Wildcats making a run at the Final Four.

Woods finally started looking like the player that was tabbed a preseasonAll-American. The 7-foot-1 center struggled for much of the year following hissuspension, but came alive to win the final Pac-10 player of the week award.

He helped Arizona end the season with a six-game winning streak, havingaveraged 16.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in victories over then-No. 1Stanford and California.

'Probably the thing that makes me the happiest is the play we got fromLoren Woods today,' Olson said after Woods had 22 points and nine boards inthe season-ending 78-76 win over Califronia. 'He was much more aggressive andI felt like that was the missing link for us.'

The resurgence of Woods further boosts a team that already boasts two of thenation's top offensive players in All-Pac-10 first teamers Gilbert Arenas andMichael Wright, who combine to average nearly 33 points a game.

Arenas and Jason Gardner form one of the nation's top backcourts, whileWoods teams with Wright and Richard Jefferson to present the opposition with aformidable frontcourt.

Eastern Illinois made its only other NCAA tournament appearance in 1991 -also as a No. 15 seed - and lost to Indiana in the opening round.

The Panthers return to the postseason thanks to a bit of controversy, havingbenefitted from a questionable goaltending call in the final seconds to beatAustin Peay 84-83 in the Ohio Valley Conference title game.

Their offense focuses on 3-point shooting and they have two of the best inKyle Hill and Henry Domercant, who both made better than 42 percent from beyondthe arc and finished among the nation's top-five scorers.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Eastern Illinois - F Todd Bergmann (5.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg), FDomercant (22.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg), C Jan Thompson (3.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg), G Hill (23.5,4.0 apg), G Matt Britton (13.4 ppg, 5.3 apg). Arizona - F Jefferson (10.9 ppg,5.2 rpg), F Wright (16.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg), C Woods (12.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg), G Arenas(16.5 ppg, 2.2 apg), G Gardner (10.6 ppg, 4.4 apg).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Eastern Illinois - Automatic bid, Ohio Valley Conferencechampion. Arizona - At-large bid, Pac-10 Conference.

ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Eastern Illinois - 0-1, 1 year. Arizona - 27-18,19 years.



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