SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Matt Arnold simply wants to move on.
Finally, he can.
With an eight-game NCAA suspension behind him, the Illinois Wesleyan senior guard is eager to rejoin his teammates in game action and will do so Thursday when No. 1 IWU meets No. 5 Puget Sound at 7:30 p.m. (CST) in the Tom Byron Classic at Westmont College.
"The toughest thing, other than not playing, was all the attention and all the questions. It's been a little bit annoying," Arnold said. "I've moved forward. Ever since I got the decision from the NCAA, I moved forward. I coped with it. I'm not going to look back. I'm going to play hard and finish out my senior year."
Arnold's suspension stemmed from a March trip to Las Vegas that involved, according to;a university statement,;"extra benefits provided by a former University employee." That individual was an IWU employee at the time.
The benefits included "travel, lodging, meals and other expenses associated with the trip," according to the school.
IWU self-reported the incident to the NCAA, which handed down the eight-game suspension. Arnold was permitted to practice with the team during his suspension.
"If I would ever had thought I would have missed a single game of the season, I never would have done that," Arnold said. "It was something I had no idea they were going to take so seriously."
Arnold, who started the final 15 games of the 2004-05 season, averaged 6.1 points and shot 49 percent from 3-point range.
"I'm excited to be back. It was awfully hard to watch the first eight games," he said. "I kept thinking I was looking forward to California when I get to return. Everyone has played really well. Hopefully, I can contribute in some way."
Arnold returns to an IWU team undefeated in eight games. Fellow seniors Jason Fisher and Mike McGraw have combined to capably man the off guard spot in his absence.
"Mike and Jason have done a really good job, especially lately," said Arnold. "We've got a deep team. It gave other guys opportunities to play and they stepped up."
IWU coach Scott Trost said Arnold handled a difficult situation well and practiced effectively.
"Matt has done whatever he could do to help the team. I'm looking forward to getting him back and helping this team win," Trost said. "I didn't rotate him in as much (in practice) with that first group. He probably wasn't as active in practice as he would have been. We used him in a role of running the opponent's offense to try to keep him involved."
"To be honest, it wasn't that different. I'm still trying to play well," said Arnold. "Coach did a good job still getting me reps. I didn't just sit out the entire time."
According to Titans' senior point guard Adam Dauksas, Arnold was still able to contribute to the team's success during his suspension.
"You could never tell by Matt's attitude and the way he approaches practice. He's been a benefit to us even though he knew he couldn't play in the games," Dauksas said. "He's done a great job preparing us and putting the team first in a time when it's probably been really hard on him as a person."
Arnold, who also was Dauksas' primary backup at the point last season, isn't sure how quickly he will adjust to playing games again.
"You practice, but you always gain conditioning from games," he said. "I have to get in game shape."
"His timing," Trost said, "I'm sure isn't going to be great. We have to use these two games in California to get him ready to help us."
The IWU coach said he will determine Arnold's early playing time "by feel.;We want to get him as many minutes as we possibly can, but at the same time Fish and Mike have been doing a great job, too. Matt's a good player. He gives us another guy who can break people down off the dribble. He's a tough defender. He's going to help us. But there are only so many minutes to go around.
"We've got good character kids. They all want to do whatever it takes to help the team win."
Dauksas is glad to see another cog in the IWU machine return to action.
"It's going to be great to have Matt back," Dauksas said. "He's another ballhandler out there. He's good enough he can create for other people and also create for himself."
Arnold is anxious to relegate the suspension to an unpleasant;memory and do what he can to create some special memories on the court with a powerhouse IWU team.
"Once the season goes on, I think a lot of it will be forgotten," he said. "I don't really talk about it anymore. The team doesn't really talk about it anymore. Once I start playing again, I hope people move on from it."