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Six questions with ex-UA assistant Jim Rosborough: Duke with its ‘comeuppance’

Jim Rosborough shouts out instructions during a 2001 game.
Photo by Donald Miralle/Allsport

Jim Rosborough, who was an assistant coach for the Arizona Wildcats under Lute Olson for 18 years, was, like many of us, still rubbing his eyes in disbelief Friday morning.

As the right-hand man for Olson for all those years — and even earlier at Iowa — Rosborough has probably seen close to it all — good, bad and otherwise.

But a 25-point first half from Derrick Williams? Out-scoring Duke by 22 in the second half?

We talked with Coach Roz on Friday morning about it …

Q: Arizona had a great rivalry with Duke over the years. What did it mean to you for the Wildcats to beat Duke?

Roz: Really, for quite a period of time there in the 90s and up to my last year there (2007), it was us, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina. Those were the four big programs. It was a huge rivalry. I have always felt there was a certain amount of arrogance with those guys, and maybe rightfully so. But Dean Smith at North Carolina was down to earth. Thing is, you could hardly ever get Mike Krzyzewski and some of his assistants to look at you when you were out in the summer recruiting or even when we were playing them. It was kind of aggravating, even when we were playing them in 2001 (for the national title).

“I couldn’t be happier. You do admire these teams like Duke that have been able to take everybody’s best shots for so long. Not maliciously, but to do that to Duke and give them a little bit of comeuppance … well, they have been the flag-bearer of college basketball for some time and to crunch them feels good.”

Q: Some might be getting a 1997 vibe from this team. What did it feel like when that team starting winning in the NCAA Tournament on the way to the title?

Roz: “You’ll recall in 1997, we were down 10 to South Alabama in the first round and everybody’s stomach is heaving and everyone is ready to throw up. College of Charleston in the second round, that was a close game. And then you beat Kansas. Looking back, once we beat Kansas, it was like, ‘Geez, we’re one game away from the Final Four. What the heck, let’s see what we can do.’ It’s probably the same for these guys: ‘We’re one game away from the 4.’

“But the truth be told, you’re so busy that you don’t have time to sit around the talk about it. You’re watching film, getting ready, there’s people everywhere. And there is so much pressure in those practices to make sure you get in the right stuff.”

Q: Everybody wants to compare Derrick Williams to some of the Arizona greats. What do you think is the closest comp?

Roz: “I think it would be a combination. I don’t recall anybody who was so dominant inside and who could stick the 3 at 60 percent. I’m kind of watching him bring the ball up last night and then work in the low post, and Luke Walton comes to mind. Maybe a little bit of Luke and Richard Jefferson. And a guy who I don’t think gets enough credit who was awfully tough was Chris Mills. We could do a lot of things with Chris Mills, and run him down into the post.

“Mills, Jefferson and Walton. Take their best qualities and roll them all together, and then you’re got Derrick.”

Khalid Reeves put up 20 in each half aganist Michigan in Dec. 1993. Photo by Al Bello/ALLSPORT

Q: In your time at Arizona, did anybody ever have a half like Williams had?

“I’d say Khalid Reeves in the game against Michigan in 1993 in the finals of the Fiesta Bowl Classic. (Reeves had 20 points in each half; he made 13 of 14 shots from the field and 11 of 12 free throws as Arizona beat the then-Fab Four 119-95.) But, Derrick … holy smokes. Twenty-five points and he made 3 after 3. A couple of them came with Kyle Singler, or whoever it was, right up in his face. I can’t recall anything like that.

“Individually, that’s as good a first half for anybody who has played here. If he hadn’t been on, it’s probably over. He was just out of sight.”

Q: What does Arizona need to do to advance?

Roz: “The thing is, they shot so well against Duke, does it happen again? The one worry would be a letdown after the big win, but you would guess that when you’re this close with a chance to go to the Final Four, you’re going to leave it all on the floor. I thought what they did in the second half against Duke was get out and run, and you saw them get some easy baskets, which really charges you up. If they are able to play at the same tempo, that’s to their advantage. But, really, they just need to play with the same type of intensity and confidence, and I don’t know why they wouldn’t.

“Just make sure Richie Ballesteros isn’t calling the game.”

(Rosborough is referring to a controversial goaltending call Ballesteros made against Loren Woods in UConn’s 71-69 win over visiting Arizona in 2000.)

Q: You’ve coached against UConn’s Jim Calhoun. Are there any common threads with his teams?

“I scouted them (as an assistant), and you can recognize some of the things offensively they were doing then. One of the things they’re doing really well is get in the lane. Kemba Walker … good lord, he is very, very clever with the basketball, breaking down and changing pace. They are always very sound. Calhoun might not be the most liked guy, but he’s really a good coach.”

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