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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “‘Cats, Trojans rematch made for Hollywood”

    UA guard Nic Wise gets cornered by USCs Keith Wilkinson (left) and Daniel Hackett (back) during a 65-64 Trojan win on Jan. 17 in Los Angeles. Despite the loss, Arizona has admittedly played with more intensity since that game.
    UA guard Nic Wise gets cornered by USC’s Keith Wilkinson (left) and Daniel Hackett (back) during a 65-64 Trojan win on Jan. 17 in Los Angeles. Despite the loss, Arizona has admittedly played with more intensity since that game.

    Arizona vs. USC

    In what can be viewed as arguably the biggest weekend series of the season, the Arizona men’s basketball team won’t overlook tonight’s front-end matchup against Southern California.

    The nostalgic appeal of Arizona-UCLA, a rivalry that, not too long ago, dominated the college basketball landscape, appears to be – as always – McKale Center’s marquee game of the season.

    But that game isn’t until Saturday, and don’t think the Wildcats have forgotten what happened just one month ago in Los Angeles against the other southern California school.

    Over the course of four weeks, UA interim head coach Russ Pennell has frequently referred to the USC game on Jan. 17 as the debut of these newfound fighting Wildcats.

    Arizona undoubtedly played well enough to win, shooting almost 60 percent in the first half and leading by as many as nine points in the second half.

    UA forward Jamelle Horne (8 points, 7 rebounds) and Zane Johnson (2-for-2 from 3-point) contributed beyond just the box score. But ultimately it came down to inexperience and an inexplicable series of fouls down the stretch, handing the Wildcats a heartbreaking 65-64 defeat and sixth straight true road loss at that point.

    “”Obviously it gives us some confidence to know we can play with them. Does it serve as motivation? I hope so,”” Pennell said. “”But beyond that, I don’t think we get caught up in, ‘Oh we should’ve won.’ What we’re playing for right now is much bigger than that.

    “”Obviously if we went over, played ‘SC and they blew you out by 30 you wouldn’t feel as good coming into the game,”” he added.

    Nic Wise committed an intentional foul with 3:50 remaining that erased the Trojans’ four-point deficit and sparked a late-game momentum swing in USC’s favor.

    It was a controversial call that Pennell said impacted the game more than Horne’s last-second foul at half court with the game tied at 64-64.



    The intensity was there, but the favorable result? Not so much.

    “”It’s disappointing for all of us, but I’m not sure that (Horne’s) play was as big as the four-point play on (Wise’s) intentional foul,”” a frustrated Pennell said after the game. “”It was just an unfortunate situation. You (media) ought to go take a look at it and write what you see.””

    But the Wildcats have not only learned how to close out the late games and play all 40 minutes, they’re coming off the season’s first two true road wins in a sweep of the Oregon schools.

    Pennell said the sudden sense of urgency occurred after the Wildcats suffered a double-digit loss to UCLA in Pauley Pavilion. At practice the following afternoon in the Galen Center, the team just “”went to work,”” Pennell said.

    “”It was more like, ‘You know what, let’s start grinding this thing out.’ It just kind of started the ball rolling,”” Pennell said.

    UA athletics director Jim Livengood said in an interview with the Daily Wildcat last week: “”You get down near the end, inside the two minute mark, and had a tendency earlier in the year to say, ‘Okay what’s going to happen now.’ Whereas now, gradually, it’s like ‘You know what, let’s get inside the two minute mark and watch us go.’ It’s so phenomenal, it’s so much fun to watch.””

    Having won five straight games since the lowest point of its season, Arizona finds itself in a position for its 25th straight NCAA Tournament – a feat that looked far-fetched last month in Los Angeles.

    “”Being our first road game win, we had to get that one out of the way,”” said UA forward Jordan Hill. “”We knew it was going to be a tough little challenge for us.””

    Added UA wing Chase Budinger: “”But we got up and were able to hold the lead until the end. … I’m not really focusing on the record at all. I’m just focusing on one game at a time.””


    B-Roy’s Breakdown

    Backcourt

    If there’s one statistic that can directly relate to Arizona’s five-game winning streak, it’s the production from Nic Wise, who is averaging 17.8 points over such a span. Subsequently, UA freshman Kyle Fogg has scored double digits in three of those games. After missing two games with a sprained left ankle, USC’s Dwight Lewis, who single-handedly revived the Trojans in their win over UA earlier this season, is back in the lineup.

    Advantage: Even

    Front court

    Just three days after a diagnosis with pneumonia, USC’s Taj Gibson was back on the floor, scoring 20 points in 38 minutes in a victory over Stanford. Gibson leads the team by averaging a double-double – 14.3 points, 10.0 rebounds per game. But then again, Chase Budinger has also turned on his game by averaging 20.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists over the past five games.

    Advantage: Even

    Bench

    As the Wildcats have seen key contributions from their freshmen, so have the Trojans. USC’s Nikola Vucevic made his first start last weekend, scoring 8 points and grabbing 5 rebounds in 30 minutes. The Trojans, who have battled injury bugs all season long, have used six different starting lineups in 10 Pac-10 games. UA’s role players should continue to impress with their contributions.

    Advantage: Arizona

    Intangibles

    Defending home court is certainly a priority for the Wildcats, with an 11-2 record at McKale Center so far this season. The Trojans are coming off a loss to UCLA on Feb. 4, also jumbled in the Pac-10’s messy middle tier. The game could bring serious NCAA Tournament implications to both teams, but the Wildcats’ home confines should manage to split the season series with USC.

    Advantage: Arizona

    Arizona 68-63

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