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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    East and West powers collide

    UA senior forward Ivan Radenovic fights for a loose ball between North Carolina forwards, Tyler Hansbrough, right, and Marcus Ginyard in Arizonas 86-69 loss last season in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Jan. 28. Hansbrough scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and may be tough to stop for Arizonas small front line.
    UA senior forward Ivan Radenovic fights for a loose ball between North Carolina forwards, Tyler Hansbrough, right, and Marcus Ginyard in Arizona’s 86-69 loss last season in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Jan. 28. Hansbrough scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and may be tough to stop for Arizona’s small front line.

    When UA head coach Lute Olson walks into a top recruit’s house, like freshman forward Chase Budinger’s for example, he can point to the schedule and guarantee a couple showdowns on national television against the top programs in the nation.

    Saturday’s contest against No. 4 North Carolina (18-2) at 11 a.m. in McKale Center is one of those games for the No. 17 Wildcats (14-4, 5-4 Pacific 10 Conference).

    “”When you come to Arizona, you know you’re going to have big-time games like this,”” Budinger said. “”That’s one of the reasons I came here.””

    “”This game is one of those you circle on your calendar,”” Budinger said. “”Carolina is a top team. Also, we are (elite, too), so we’ve been looking forward to this game.””

    Forward Ivan Radenovic, who hails from Serbia, also appreciates playing against a storied power of college basketball – one that has won four national championships, reached 16 Final Fours and produced stars like Michael Jordan and James Worthy.

    “”We’ve played a lot of big games, but North Carolina is something special,”” Radenovic said. “”It’s a part of basketball history, so I’m looking forward to playing them.””

    One thing’s for sure: the Wildcats will have no problem coming out pumped for this contest.

    “”We might come out too hyped up,”” said guard Jawann McClellan. “”We might need to calm down.””

    For the Wildcats to have a chance against the Tar Heels, Olson said his team needs to focus on two things: taking care of the ball and rebounding.

    That won’t be easy against the best rebounding team in the nation, with a 10.8 positive-rebound margin per game entering this week, which also averages just less than nine steals per contest.

    “”They have a lot of people that can rebound,”” McClellan said. “”With the size that they have, we just have to keep them off the boards.””

    If the Wildcats can pull the upset, it would further strengthen the case that the Pac-10 is the best in the nation, which is currently supported by the conference’s No. 1 RPI. For the past few weeks, many media pundits have come to this conclusion, saying it should between five and seven teams into the NCAA Tournament.

    The Tar Heels belong to the Atlantic Coast Conference, which has been arguably the nation’s best conference the past few seasons and a main point of debate for Olson when discussing East Coast bias.

    “”I think it would certainly help the Pac-10 if we do the job,”” Olson said. “”The Pac-10 this year has done a good job against outside competition, and that’s what you have to do when you’re outside your conference.””

    The Wildcats also still have memories of last year’s debacle in Chapel Hill, N.C., when the Tar Heels ran away with the game in the second half after a competitive start, leading to an 86-69 Carolina win.

    That game started a three-game losing streak for Arizona, which had been the school’s first since Olson’s first season at Arizona in 1983-84.

    Of course, it took only one more year for Olson to suffer through his next three-game losing streak, which the Wildcats snapped with their win over ASU Wednesday.

    Last year’s Carolina game was especially tough for McClellan, who was recruited hard by UNC head coach Roy Williams out of high school but could only sit on the bench as Carolina completed a rout.

    “”I was kind of mad about the way the season was going, but we’ve got to put that behind”” us, McClellan said. “”All I said all last year is that we’ll get them when they come back here, and we have a chance to prove that.””

    Budinger and Radenovic said that a win in the rematch would make a national statement and punctuate that the Wildcats are back on track after their rough patch in conference play that led to four losses in five games, unheard of for the UA program under Olson.

    For McClellan, a win would be not only payback, but also a chance to prove wrong anyone who thinks the Wildcats don’t have a chance in this rematch.

    “”Everybody’s counting us out already, but we know what kind of team we have, and we don’t care about what outsiders have to say,”” he said. “”We just have to go out there and execute, keep playing defense the way we did (against ASU) and knock down open shots.””

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