Arizona senior point guard Reggie Geary grew up playing against Kansas guard Jacque Vaughn in the Southland, and Geary did an apprenticeship the past few seasons at Arizona under star guards Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves. Yet when the names of the nation’s top guards were bantered around this season, Geary was rarely mentioned.
Even at University Activity Center, where the NCAA tournament’s West Region was being played, Geary was considered the third-best point guard.
“Jacque Vaughn and [Santa Clara’s] Steve Nash aren’t the only guards out here,” Geary said Sunday. “But that’s all you hear: Jacque Vaughn and Steve Nash.”
That may change after Geary’s performance Sunday in the third-seeded Wildcats’ 87-73 second-round victory over sixth-seeded Iowa. Geary scored 16 points, had 13 assists, and committed one turnover against the Hawkeyes’ full-court pressure defense.
Next, he’ll get a shot at Vaughn and the Jayhawks, who overwhelmed Nash and Santa Clara in the second game, 76-51.
The Wildcats (26-6) and Jayhawks (28-4) will meet Friday in Denver in the round of 16.
“I know everything about Jacque,” Geary said. “I’ve known him since the eighth grade. A lot of things he can do, I can do too. He loves to battle and I do too.”
Both love to pass, as well.
“Reggie Geary had 13 assists and one turnover?” Arizona Coach Lute Olson said. “That’s unbelievable.”
Olson then turned to Geary, who was sitting next to Olson in the postgame news conference. “Reggie,” Olson said with mock surprise, “I didn’t know you could handle the ball that well.”
More and more people are learning that. Geary has started 66 games in a row, but two years ago--with Stoudamire and Reeves in the backcourt--he was a small forward at 6 feet 2. Last season, Geary played shooting guard alongside Stoudamire. This season, he became the point guard.
He showed Sunday that he has learned well. Six Wildcats, including all five starters, scored in double figures as Geary worked the ball around. He fed center Ben Davis, who scored 17 points and had 14 rebounds.
The Wildcats built a 17-point first-half lead. But in their first-round victory over George Washington, Iowa (23-9) had overcome a 17-point second-half deficit.
The Hawkeyes made a run at Arizona in the second half.
With the Wildcats leading, 65-49, with 10:01 left, Iowa went on a 10-1 run keyed by three-point baskets by Chris Kingsbury and Mon’ter Glasper.
But, unlike George Washington, the Wildcats kept their poise and attacked the press. They responded to the Hawkeyes’ run with a 10-3 spurt. Geary fed Michael Dickerson and Davis for dunks, and Geary capped the run with a dunk of his own that gave Arizona a 76-62 lead with 6:06 left.
Geary’s calm against Iowa’s press was particularly noteworthy because he had gained a reputation the past two seasons as a player who was too rash and too vocal toward referees, opponents and fans.
But Geary said he changed his focus when he took over at point guard.
“I learned a lot from Khalid and Damon,” he said. “Not from the skill standpoint, because I had the skills. It was more about how to handle yourself under pressure.”