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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Toughness on Cats’ minds for ’07-’08

    Forward Chase Budinger dunks the ball during Arizonas 61-58 win over ASU Feb. 25 in Tempe. If he doesnt jump to the NBA, Budinger will likely be the leader of head coach Lute Olsons team next season.
    Forward Chase Budinger dunks the ball during Arizona’s 61-58 win over ASU Feb. 25 in Tempe. If he doesn’t jump to the NBA, Budinger will likely be the leader of head coach Lute Olson’s team next season.

    Wait till next year. It’s the saying Arizona has heard every year since 1997 and though it’s not quite as bad as the Chicago Cubs’ 99-year drought, each time becomes harder and harder for the folks in Tucson.

    With the 2006-07 season finished, next year will be here before you know it, but will the problems of the last two years be fixed? Though the off-court chemistry issues of two years ago appear to be resolved, the on-court chemistry issues and the inability to shed the label of “”soft”” remain.

    After the loss to Purdue, UA head coach Lute Olson walked into the locker room and told the team the game was a sign that it needed to get tougher.

    “”I think a loss to a team like this will not be quickly forgotten because (Arizona) just plain got out-physicaled,”” Olson said.

    Senior Ivan Radenovic said Olson’s message was clear that the image of the team needed a makeover.

    “”Everybody should be afraid of us, not telling us that we have a soft group of individuals,”” Radenovic said Olson told the team.

    In the workouts…there will be a lot more emphasis on developing the
    one-on-one offensive and defensive skills and less on time spent on working on shooting.

    – Lute Olson,
    UA head coach

    Radenovic and Mustafa Shakur are out, while Marcus Williams is expected to leave early for the NBA, leaving five incoming freshmen along with Kirk Walters, who’s almost certain to receive a medical redshirt.

    With a schedule that includes games against Illinois in Chicago, at Kansas, at Memphis, and Virginia and Texas A&M at home, not to mention the Fiesta Bowl Classic, where the opponent is yet to be determined but promises to be another big-name team, Arizona is in for another year when the going only gets tougher.

    Olson said the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament have been the most physical he has seen in his last 34 years of coaching.

    “”You can see it from watching the games in the playoffs,”” he said. “”No matter who you watch, those games are all physical and that’s they way they’re being called.

    “”It’s not a game of finesse really anymore, it’s a game of strength – and much more physical than it’s ever been.””

    His solution revolves around a football-style philosophy. Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team made the practice popular, using blocking dummies and even wearing helmets at basketball practice.

    Olson’s priority is to improve the offseason strength program to not only add muscle to the bodies of Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill – Hill said he wants to gain about 20 pounds – but also to mentally prepare the team for more physical play.

    “”They have to be pushed to the ‘Nth’ degree in everything they do with weights,”” Olson said. “”In the workouts now and in the fall there will be a lot more emphasis on developing the one-on-one offensive and defensive skills and less on time spent on working on shooting.””

    The program in theory sounds like a legitimately well-thought idea. The mindset, however, must reverberate to the players.

    Jawann McClellan will undoubtedly be the team’s senior leader next season, and his plans to improve the team will start before the first practice.

    “”Next year I have to get in some people’s faces even including pickup,”” McClellan said.

    “”(My) teammates, they know I’m not trying to get down to anybody, but you also need to motivate some players and you need to talk to some players like that to get them up.””

    In the last quarter of the season, the coaches stopped calling fouls at practice to proliferate the notion of being physical. Arizona’s resident tough guy, Bret Brielmaier, said that will continue throughout the summer.

    “”This summer we’re gonna get the guys together and we’re not gonna call fouls,”” he said.

    “”We look at Purdue and they are just so physically strong and always had a body on you, moving you where they wanted you, and we need to get that mentality.””

    Budinger figures to be the star, but he needs to become more consistent.

    Between performances that made people’s heads turn – like the 30-point effort at Oregon and 23-point show versus ASU, when Budinger got in the face of Jeff Pendergraph – the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year had his low points. In his second-to-last game against Oregon in the Pac-10 Tournament, Budinger scored 10 points in the first half, then didn’t score in the second half.

    “”One play we’d be tough and the next play we wouldn’t,”” Budinger said. “”That consistency of being tough wasn’t with us the whole season.””

    With three kids from Texas on the roster, a Minnesotan, and now a football player from Michigan, Arizona hopes it can take its talent, mix it up with guys who – well, can mix it up – and translate it into wins.

    “”Next year we might have a couple of pros, we might not, but I think we’ll have a better team and better chemistry next year,”” McClellan said.

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