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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Houston, we’re on a ‘business trip'”

    Former UA guard Jawann McClellan shoots from the corner during a 64-59 overtime loss to ASU in Tempe on Jan. 9, 2008. McClellan hope to coach at the Division I level.
    Former UA guard Jawann McClellan shoots from the corner during a 64-59 overtime loss to ASU in Tempe on Jan. 9, 2008. McClellan hope to coach at the Division I level.

    Arizona at Houston

    After its worst start to a conference season since 2001-02 with two losses in three games, the Arizona men’s basketball team isn’t getting a breather by traveling to Houston to play a game outside of the Pacific 10 Conference.

    “”They call those games trap games where you go play good teams out of your conference,”” said UA guard Nic Wise, one of three Houston natives on the team. “”But we just gotta play that game like it was any other game.””

    But it will be hard for Wise, along with guard Jawann McClellan and forward Fendi Onobun, to look at it as any other game.

    When the Wildcats (10-5) take on the Cougars (11-2) in Hofheinz Pavilion on Saturday afternoon at 1 – in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN2 – the Houston natives will have their first chances to play with “”ARIZONA”” across their chests in the city where they grew up.

    The last time the Wildcats went to Houston, losing 69-65 two seasons ago, none of the threesome saw any playing time.

    Onobun was redshirting as a freshman, though the redshirt was pulled a month-and-a-half later.

    Wise was a senior at Kingwood High School and had a pair of games that day, so he couldn’t even watch from the stands.

    And guard Jawann McClellan was battling knee problems on top of being an academically ineligible sophomore because he was too distraught to continue with summer school classes after his father, George, passed away of a heart attack in June.

    “”It was a difficult time,”” McClellan said. “”I was under a lot of scrutiny in my life. I really wasn’t thinking about basketball. I wanted us to win, but I was just being with my mom at that time.

    “”Now this time, we need to go down there and get a win,”” McClellan added.

    The three players head into the Lone Star State in better shape, individually, than they were two years ago – each having lost weight and gained strength in the past offseason. On their first losing streak of the season, the Wildcats are hoping that their offseason transformations will help especially against the Cougars.

    Each young man has a significantly larger role this season.

    After missing the first eight games of the season with shin splints, Onobun has played in six of the last seven games, including the last five. With forward Jordan Hill’s tendency to get into foul trouble and forward Bret Brielmaier re-injuring his right shoulder that he separated in December Wednesday at ASU, keeping him in Tucson during this road game, Onobun could see more time.

    The lack of depth also caused the removal of forward Zane Johnson’s redshirt against ASU in a similar situation to Onobun’s two seasons ago.

    With Arizona’s leading scorer, guard Jerryd Bayless, sidelined with a sprained knee, Wise has been the team’s starting point guard for the past four games, averaging 40 minutes per game in the stretch.

    “”I think Nic Wise has had an opportunity to really get some minutes and really get his confidence up,”” said Houston head coach Tom Penders. “”… I’ve always thought Nic was a very talented kid. Him playing well helps (Arizona).””

    Wise couldn’t have agreed more.

    “”It’s what I’ve been wanting to prove all along, that I can play, that I can run the show for my team,”” Wise said. “”Be a good point guard, distribute and knock down shots when it comes back to me.””

    But it’s McClellan that’s changed the most as a player, transitioning from a scorer to a “”glue guy,”” as UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill called it, and a defensive guru – usually getting the assignment to cover an opponent’s best player.

    Because of his emphasis on defense, McClellan – who averages 8.9 points per game – has the worse shooting percentage (.442) of all starters, sans guard Daniel Dillon, who’s started four games.

    “”For some reason, I don’t know why shots aren’t falling for me right now,”” McClellan said. “”I get in the gym and shoot extra. I’m hitting them in practice. One of the reasons is that I focus so much on defense that I’m not in rhythm to shoot when I get on the offensive end because most of our plays are for Jordan or (forward) Chase (Budinger) or Jerryd.

    “”Last year, I had pretty much a green light to shoot it from anywhere,”” he added. “”Sometimes you don’t know what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot, but I’ll get through. I’m a man. I’m not worried about shots falling.””

    For now, McClellan and the rest of the Wildcats will want to focus more on the defensive end, going from a clock-draining ASU team to a quick Cougar team that relies a lot on transition 3-pointers.

    “”We’ve got to stop the bleeding,”” O’Neill said. “”We’ve lost three out of four. We’ve just got to tighten our boot straps up a little bit, get on the plane to Houston and get a win.””

    To do that, Arizona’s three H-town representatives have to keep from getting distracted.

    “”I’m not even looking at it as going back home,”” McClellan said. “”It’s a business trip.””

    And 1

    O’Neill said Wednesday that Bayless is “”day-to-day”” and that playing against Houston would be a game-time decision.

    “”(Arizona’s) not as explosive offensively (without Bayless),”” Penders said. “”And I also think when he’s healthy, for a freshman, he plays his tail off defensively. …It’s tough playing without a kid with that kind of talent.”” …

    Arizona beat Houston 87-62 in McKale Center last season, but the Cougars still lead 5-4 in the all-time series. …

    UA assistant coach Miles Simon did not travel with the team to Houston on Thursday to be his ill grandmother, O’Neill said.

    Michael Schwartz contributed to this report

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