If you want to get under Arizona Coach Lute Olson's skin, call his Wildcats soft.
He has disputed the tag for years, but that is still the image of West Coast basketball. Today, Olson's Wildcats will have an opportunity to silence critics against Nick Collison-led Kansas in the West Regional final at the Arrowhead Pond.
In Collison, who dismantled Duke with a 33-point, 19-rebound effort Thursday, the Jayhawks have an inside force the Wildcats will have to reckon with.
At 6-foot-9, 255 pounds, Collison -- who's not afraid to throw his body around in the paint -- presents a physical challenge for the Wildcats, who ran an overmatched Notre Dame team off the floor Thursday. And Collison also will be motivated to avenge a defeat to Arizona in January.
In that game, the Jayhawks blew a 20-point first-half lead and lost by 17. Collison, who had 11 points in the first half but made only two baskets in the second, said it was the most disappointing game of his life.
A breakdown of today's game:
The Jayhawks will win if they: Get senior guard Kirk Hinrich out of his shooting funk. In Kansas' victory over Duke, Hinrich made only one of nine attempts from the floor and had two points. Hinrich has been pressing and needs to get a couple of easy transition baskets against the Wildcats, who love to play an up-tempo game. Hinrich can't afford to keep looking for three-pointers and needs to look for his mid-range game more against Arizona's smallish backcourt tandem of Jason Gardner and Salim Stoudamire.
Kansas also needs a big game from small forward Keith Langford, who probably will be matched up early against Arizona's Luke Walton. Langford finished with a team-high 27 points against the Wildcats in January, but he also had five turnovers. The more fastbreaks Langford can be involved in, the better.
Coach Roy Williams needs his Jayhawks to play great perimeter defense against Arizona's outside shooters. Against Duke, Williams went with a small lineup and Michael Lee frustrated freshman J.J. Redick into two-of-19 shooting. But Redick is a one-dimensional player, who can only catch and shoot, while the Wildcats have several players who can beat you off the dribble. The Jayhawks will have to move their feet on defense.
The Wildcats will win if they: Find a way to wear down Collison, who played the entire game against Duke. The Wildcats have to run the floor and throw a ton of fresh bodies at Collison in order to take away some of his effectiveness.
Rick Anderson and Channing Frye will both start off taking turns on Collison, but Olson should not hesitate to turning to reserve center Isaiah Fox or even Walton on him. Collison is a high-energy player who works much harder on the offensive end. Duke simply didn't have an answer for him, but the Wildcats believe they do.
However, look for Arizona to start off playing a sagging defense to surround Collison, daring the Jayhawks to shoot long-range shots. This is how the Wildcats rallied to win in Lawrence when they switched to this tactic in the second half and Kansas missed 12 of 14 three-point attempts over the final 20 minutes.
The Wildcats also need to get a big game from reserve players such as Hassan Adams, Andre Iguodala and Fox. Against Notre Dame, Adams stepped up with 14 points, but the rest of the Wildcats' bench accounted for only five. Arizona will need a better-balanced contribution against Kansas.