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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Analysis: Late spark not enough

    McKale Center’s atmosphere began to erupt like the raucous crowds of years past Tuesday night – as if those thousands of empty seats suddenly began yelling themselves.

    It was a clear reflection of those Wildcats, who began showing resiliency and fight like teams of the program’s storied years past.

    The problem? Less than five minutes remained on the game clock.

    Even with the 9:40 p.m. tip-off, the Arizona men’s basketball team seemingly showed up late once again.

    But this time, the lack of first-half production eclipsed Arizona’s late surge of making it to New York City.

    The three juniors did their part in the first 20 minutes. Forward Jordan Hill recorded 11 rebounds, forward Chase Budinger scored 14 points and Nic Wise added eight of his own through the first half.

    The supporting cast? Just four combined additional points and seven other rebounds.

    “”Great teams play both halves, so that’s what we got to get to,”” Budinger said. “”That’s what we’re working towards.””

    But production defensively couldn’t be found anywhere – particularly in transition and on the perimeter. A fast-paced UAB team shot 50 percent from both the floor (16-of-32) and beyond the arc (7-of-14) in the first half.

    The Blazers’ quick penetration to the basket, followed by crisp passing out to their wings often caught Arizona off guard, leaving wide-open 3-point attempts.

    At halftime, the Wildcats found themselves down by 10 points – the game’s largest lead at that point. But as in their two other exhibition games this season, Arizona showed urgency coming out of the locker room.

    “”Our guys showed some great resolve to fight back,”” UA interim head coach Russ Pennell said. “”One of my concerns about this team is how we would respond to adversity. I’ll be anxious to see how they respond to this loss.””

    Added Budinger: “”We come out with a little more focus and fire in the second half.””

    Arizona adjusted on defense, cutting UAB’s shooters to 39.3 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3-point land in the second half.

    And with the defensive improvement came collateral success on offense, fueled by Budinger’s take-over determination toward the end of the half. The forward delivered a momentum-shifting block with under five minutes to play, followed by back-to-back successful drives to the hoop.

    It brought Arizona within five points after trailing by as many as 14 earlier in the second half.

    The Wildcats’ defensive stops also picked up momentum with Hill’s tournament record-setting rebounding performance (22), giving Arizona one last shot at closing the comeback.

    “”We’ve been going hard in practice, and I think our conditioning is pretty good,”” Budinger said. “”I think we’ve even been wearing teams out.””

    Added UAB head coach Mike Davis: “”I thought we played well until the last seven minutes of the game. We thought when we went up 13 or 14 points that we would have a chance to put them away but they just kept clawing back.””

    With 29 seconds remaining, a defensive stop gave Arizona an opportunity for the game-winning look. They failed to execute on two occasions, caused by a lack of communication, Budinger said.

    UA forward Jamelle Horne, who fouled UAB’s Paul Delaney III with one second remaining in a tie game, 71-71, said after the game that the team would learn and mature from this situation.

    Twenty-four seconds prior to Horne’s foul, UA freshman guard Kyle Fogg had also committed a foul with the game tied.

    “”A game like tonight, you can’t worry about the last 25 seconds,”” Budinger said. “”The biggest positive is we fought back when we were down. That shows a lot of heart with us. We just got to look at the positives during the games, not the negatives.””

    Catching up from a lackluster first-half has been a common instance over the past year. Under the Kevin O’Neill regime, Arizona constantly found itself forced to claw back from sub-par starts.

    Most notable, the Wildcats came back after trailing by 20 points against then-No. 9 Texas A&M in McKale Center last season, winning 78-67. Similar comebacks at Illinois and UNLV showed the team had an ability to fight back, but always lacked a solid start to the game.

    But if Arizona could relate Tuesday night’s painful loss to a specific point last season, think back to the similar situation against Virginia.

    In their second game of the season with an interim head coach – as in this season – the Wildcats lost a close game to Sean Singletary’s final-minute execution.

    Pennell said he wants this year’s team to remember how badly Tuesday’s loss stings.

    It’s a feeling that Arizona won’t forget anytime soon.

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