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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Commentary: ‘Cats are back

To the students who created the “”We Never Left”” marketing campaign for this season’s Arizona basketball team: It sure did feel like they’re back.

The ZonaZoo is back from winter break. The hype is back from college football’s dominance.

Heck, even the Ooh-Aah man is back from an illness.

College basketball has returned to the spotlight in Tucson — one clouded so heavily this week by deaths to innocent lives.

With the exception of one student’s sign — “”win one for Gabby”” — nobody mentioned the shooting Saturday. McKale Center was back to its scrappy brand of basketball, 40 minutes at a time.

The 80-69 win against ASU even gave off a homecoming-esque vibe. Steve Kerr called the game on FS Arizona. Ex-Wildcat Fendi Onobun and ex-coach Lute Olson watched from the stands.

Russ Pennell did, too.

Pennell sat in front of the ZonaZoo for his first trip back to McKale Center since leaving the Wildcats’ interim coaching position in 2009.

“”It’s funny when you walk in it almost seems like it was yesterday,”” Pennell said. “”It’s kind of fun to be a fan. Rarely does a college coach come to just watch a game. It’s kind of fun to sit here and not have to see who’s rebounding, who’s not, who’s in foul trouble.””

Pennell knows those struggles all too clearly: Blowing double-digit leads. Playing down to an opponent’s level. Always a few steps behind in transition. Taking a foot off the gas. Relying on one star player.

Arizona showed shades of those woes Saturday, too — but as a team that has certainly matured.

“”I think this year we’re worried about protecting home court,”” said UA wing Solomon Hill. “”It’s a special places for us to win.””

Hill has never been more versatile. He scored 11 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and provided a gritty tandem to Arizona’s newest starting forward — the always-hustling Jesse Perry.

Perry scored 13 points and grabbed 3 boards.

“”Solomon is consistently our second best player everyday,”” said UA coach Sean Miller. “”He can do a little bit of everything and sometimes you forget where he is in his career.””

Derrick Williams is back as Miller’s “”first best player.”” The sophomore scored 31 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and finished virtually every And-1.

“”As long as I can get the And-1, I know I don’t have to shoot two free throws,”” Williams said. “”Just one.””

Not that free throws are a problem for Williams: He went 15-for-16 from the charity stripe.

“”The consistency of which (Williams) does it, every coach plays against us starts by trying to make the game hard on him,”” Miller said.

The Sun Devils threw a kitchen sink of defenses at Hill. Double teams. Triple teams. Traps. Zone. Man to man.

“”It worked the first five minutes,”” Williams said.

Added Miller: “”No one loves him more than me.””

Arizona didn’t win pretty Saturday. But just as Pennell preached during his tenure here, a win is a win in the Pac-10.

The Wildcats improved to 15-3 overall and 4-1 in the conference. Arizona snapped a three-year home losing streak to ASU.

All is back in Tucson.

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