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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Roy: Budinger rises to big-game occasion

    Arizona forward Chase Budinger celebrates during an 84-71 UA win against Utah on Thursday in AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. Budinger and the rest of the Wildcats fought through lots of adversity to get to the Sweet 16, in part shedding the label that they were a soft team.
    Arizona forward Chase Budinger celebrates during an 84-71 UA win against Utah on Thursday in AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. Budinger and the rest of the Wildcats fought through lots of adversity to get to the Sweet 16, in part shedding the label that they were a soft team.

    Inside Arizona Basketball

    MIAMI – As if Will Smith dedicated his best-known song to the junior himself, Chase Budinger arrived just in time.

    Welcome to Miami. And thanks for bringin’ the heat to South Beach.

    In No. 12-seed Arizona’s 84-71 upset victory over No. 5-seed Utah, Budinger finally mattered when it mattered most. He left doubters without a doubt that UA not only deserved an NCAA Tournament berth, but that Arizona can close out a big game after Budinger’s previous two unfavorable season endings.

    Two turbulent seasons, and neither seems successful to a school that measures its basketball program up to “”elite-program”” expectations.

    Budinger, who was a five-star recruit and Pacific 10 Conference Freshman of the Year, feels the big expectations game after game, mid-season slump after slump, NCAA Tournament loss after loss.

    With a bad outcome, Friday night’s game could’ve very well tagged an “”overrated”” label on Budinger’s career as a Wildcat unable to produce a single NCAA Tournament victory. Instead, he made an undoubted escape from the Mustafa Shakur Club.

    Perhaps, he even single-handedly vindicated the 2008-2009 season as a success.

    The “”Are we okay with just extending the streak?”” question doesn’t need to be answered any longer.

    “”This team came focused and ready to play,”” Budinger said. “”We’ve had hardships throughout the whole season, but we stuck together as a team. We united and came closer with those hardships. That’s what made us at this point that we’re at now. We’re just trying to play our best basketball right now, and we just played well (Friday).””

    Eight days after being a non-factor against ASU in the first round of the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament, Budinger resembled nothing of what he, The Face Of The Team, looked like against the Sun Devils – the game in which he shot an ugly, ugly 3-for-15 from the field.

    And everybody knows how important Budinger’s face is to the team. Houston guard Aubrey Coleman planted the season’s pivotal pivot on Chase’s face three months ago, igniting a fire deep enough to place Arizona 40 minutes away from a Sweet 16 berth.

    You read that right.

    The same team that appeared all but nailed in a coffin on two occasions this season is one game away from reaching the Sweet 16.

    For the first time in the Budinger Era, the Wildcats can actually keep dancing after one day of the Big Dance.

    This time, it was the opposing team’s bench that shot out the blank stares into the rafters and held back tears as the final buzzer sounded.

    This time, Budinger put on the headset after the game, conducting the post-game radio interview, and signed a fan’s game program as a winner.

    “”It’s never good going out with a bad game,”” Budinger said. “”It’s a huge relief. It was one of my goals coming into this year. I just really badly wanted to get past the first round. Now I’ve done it. I think we kind of showed that we belong in here, and I was able to have a good game.””

    Added UA forward Fendi Onobun: “”Honestly, I didn’t think we were in (the NCAA Tournament), but shoot, I’m a big believer in divine intervention, and I feel like we’re here for a reason. We’re going to make the most of this opportunity.

    “”We didn’t come in here to just be here – we came in here to win,”” Onobun added.

    Budinger finished the game with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, shooting 8-for-14 from the floor and 4-for-6 from the free throw line.

    As the AmericanAirlines Arena announced “”one minute remaining”” in the game, Budinger dished a half-court pass to a wide-open, all-alone Jordan Hill, who dunked it to ice the victory.

    The assist put a stop to the busy signal on Tucson’s Suicide Hotline number, after UA’s significant double-digit first-half lead gradually dwindled down the stretch in the second half.

    Maybe it was the old sneakers. While the rest of the Wildcats wore brand new navy Nike shoes – special NCAA Tournament edition – Budinger and Nic Wise opted to stick with the ones they’ve worn all season.

    In return, the duo finished the night as Arizona’s two leading scorers.

    Wise scored a career-high 29 points off of a 10-for-19 performance.

    “”We overcame adversity again,”” Wise said. “”Everything that’s happened to us these past couple years, coach (Lute) Olson having to leave from us twice, and we’ve had three different coaches in the last three years.

    “”Lost three or four games by one point, and the schedule we played was pretty tough,”” Wise added. “”So I just felt that we overcame adversity again and proved that we really should be in the tournament.””

    It’s just overcoming adversity as usual for the Wildcats.

    – Bryan Roy is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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