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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Jayhawks are defending national champs, but no doubt a whole new team”

    Arizona guard Nic Wise (13) pushes past UNLV forward Joe Darger in a 79-64 Rebel win in Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday. Kansas head coach Bill Self said it will be tough for his Jayhawks to defend Wise, Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger -
    Arizona guard Nic Wise (13) pushes past UNLV forward Joe Darger in a 79-64 Rebel win in Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday. Kansas head coach Bill Self said it will be tough for his Jayhawks to defend Wise, Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger –

    Arizona vs. Kansas

    The Kansas men’s basketball program is the defending national champion team, but you wouldn’t know that by glancing at the roster.

    “”When we play well we play pretty good, and when we play poorly, we play very poorly,”” said Kansas head coach Bill Self. “”We’ve actually played to our age. And I shouldn’t be too surprised with that because we’re ridiculously young and inexperienced.””

    The Jayhawks (8-2), who take on Arizona (7-3) in Tuesday night’s Fiesta Bowl Classic in McKale Center at 8:30, are composed of mostly freshmen and sophomores, and after losing standout players Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur, they’re left with junior point guard Sherron Collins (18 points per game, 4.9 assists) and sophomore center Cole Aldrich (14 ppg, 10.5 rebounds per game) to pull the wagon. Last season Collins averaged 9.3 ppg and Aldrich put up just 2.8 ppg.

    The defined leadership puts the Jayhawks in a similar situation to the the Wildcats, who have been led by Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise all season, though these players all played a significant role last year as well.

    “”You talk about Arizona’s Big Three. We’ve got a pretty good Two,”” Self said with a smile. “”Sherron and Cole are both good. But here we are talking about a kid that averaged 2 points a game last year coming in and being our experienced guy coming back.””

    Added Budinger: “”They’re a very solid team, a very good team. But it’s just going to be completely different from playing them last year to this year. They’re just a different team.””

    Self compared his Kansas team from last season to Arizona’s 1997 national-championship team because nearly any player could score on both squads. Having minimal scoring threats as far as personnel, however, isn’t always a bad thing, he said.

    “”Everybody knows their role and where the ball needs to go,”” Self said. “”And so with us, it is a big challenge because the offense is geared so those guys get touches in certain places.””

    Out of its 16 roster players, 11 are underclassmen for Kansas. Because of this, there aren’t many experienced players to show the youngsters the ropes, putting more work on the coaching staff, Self said.

    But that’s not all a bad thing.

    “”It’s not easy, but that’s what makes it so fun,”” Aldrich said.

    Arizona lost to the Jayhawks in Lawrence, Kan., last season, 76-72 in overtime.

    Tied at 62, Arizona had the last shot, which was designed for Budinger. But walk-on senior Bret Brielmaier, who is now a UA undergraduate assistant coach, intercepted a pass and shot a last-second jumper that didn’t go in.

    “”I know that coach (Kevin) O’Neill was furious because he wanted me taking that last shot,”” Budinger said, “”but I feel that Bret had a wide-open jumper to win the game.””

    But even though the outcome was a loss against then-No. 4 Kansas, Arizona did gain something from the experience.

    “”That just gives us the confidence that we could play with anyone in the country and we’re going to go into this game (on Tuesday) acting the same way,”” Budinger said. “”We’re trying to put into everybody’s mind that yes, they’re not the same team, but they’re still a very top 25 – a very good team.””

    “”And we can’t, like, overlook them as, ‘Oh, well they lost a lot of players last year so they’re not as good.’ That’s not the case. They still got plenty of capable guys on their team that could score and defend,”” Budinger added. “”And they’re still great athletes. They’re Kansas.””

    And 1

    UA interim head coach Russ Pennell and Self coached together at Oklahoma State from 1990-1992.

    “”I’ve known Russ a while. I’ve always though he’s had a good basketball mind,”” Self said. “”And I think he’s a good people person, and at the core he cares about people.””

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