The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

48° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Cougars ready to run

    Former UA guard Jawann McClellan shoots from the corner during a 64-59 overtime loss to ASU in Tempe on Jan. 9, 2008. McClellan hope to coach at the Division I level.
    Former UA guard Jawann McClellan shoots from the corner during a 64-59 overtime loss to ASU in Tempe on Jan. 9, 2008. McClellan hope to coach at the Division I level.

    Opponent Analysis

    An Arizona squad that has limited depth on the perimeter even with guard Jerryd Bayless is about to meet its worst nightmare, a fast-paced Houston team with plenty of reserves that wants to run and shoot 3-pointers for 40 minutes.

    If Bayless isn’t effective, that should prove to be quite the challenge for an Arizona squad that has averaged 68.0 points per game without the freshman, about 7.5 points less than with him.

    The Cougars push the ball whenever they can and design some of their offensive game plan off what works for the Phoenix Suns, the high-octane NBA team Houston head coach Tom Penders spent a week with at training camp in Italy last season.

    “”We like to run, we like to get it in the 80s, 90s,”” Penders said of his team, which averages 79.1 points per game. “”That would be more desirable as the season goes on. That’s what we hope to be doing because we do have a pretty deep team.””

    Even more so than the Suns, 3-pointers make up a big part of the Cougars’ offensive game plan, with a whopping 45.6 percent of their shots coming from 3-point land, where the team shoots 36.7 percent. By contrast, in Arizona’s more structured system, 30.9 percent of the Wildcats’ shots come from long range.

    UH guard Robert McKiver has hit 38.3 percent of his 133 3s and averages a team-high 20.8 points per game, while UH forward Dion Dowell is next at 13.5 ppg, hitting 43.0 percent of his 73 3s.

    “”We’ve got some guys that can shoot it,”” Penders said. “”I just believe in college basketball it’s crazy not to be (a 3-point shooting team) unless you have a great inside game because it’s an easy shot and if you shoot 33 percent it’s like 50 percent from 2, and offensive rebounding is enhanced when players expect to shoot 3s. Since they put that thing in I’ve tried to take advantage of it.””

    UA guard Nic Wise, a Houston native, said the Cougars spread the court like Oregon, who shot 7-for-12 on 3s in the first half and 10-for-22 for the game Jan. 5 in McKale Center.

    “”We think Oregon shot 3s, wait ’till we play U of H,”” said guard Jawann McClellan, who also hails from Houston. “”We’ve got to get better defensively.””

    McKiver and Dowell – seniors who originally transferred from Providence and Texas, respectively – not only play within the team concept but act as “”big brothers”” to the five freshmen on the squad, Penders said.

    The duo should be helped by the return of 6-foot-11 center Marcus Cousin, who Penders expects to come back in a part-time role against the Wildcats after missing the past four games with a stress fracture in his right foot.

    Cousin, a Seton Hall transfer, averages 6.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, giving the Cougars another big to rotate with Tafari Toney, a 6-foot-8 forward who averages a nearly identical 6.0 ppg and 5.4 rpg.

    “”He’s not a scoring machine or a go-to guy every time down on the floor,”” Penders said of Cousin. “”He’s a big, strong kid, very good athlete for his kind of size.””

    With the nation’s No. 291-ranked schedule and the team’s only true road game coming Jan. 2 in a 95-89 loss at Massachusetts, Penders said his 11-2 squad has “”just taken care of business enough to win the games we’re supposed to”” thus far, with players and coaches feeling like Houston can and should improve.

    The Cougars have won all nine of their games in Hofheinz Pavillion, including an 83-69 victory over Kentucky on Dec. 18, leading Wise to say it’s a tough place to play.

    However, Penders said the crowds are “”certainly not”” the reason for his squad’s success at home.

    “”Our fans are different,”” Penders said. “”You guys are spoiled out there (in Tucson). We draw for the big games, four, five games a year, and then basically it’s empty. We’ve had only one really big game, Kentucky, where we’ve had great a crowd.

    “”It seems like when we play teams like Arizona or Kentucky or Louisville or Memphis we get the big crowds and all the stars come out. I heard Roger Clemens was going (to the Arizona game), but now I doubt it.””

    The numbers bear it out, as the Cougars averaged 3,262 fans per game in their eight non-Kentucky matchups, with all the crowds right around that mark in the 8,479-capacity building. Then the Kentucky contest drew over the listed capacity with 8,517.

    A similar crowd is expected for the Arizona game, just like the contest two years ago that Penders said was the first real sellout in the fourth-year head coach’s tenure.

    The Wildcats lost that game, 69-65, after falling behind 20-4 while their leading scorers, guards Hassan Adams and Chris Rodgers, were benched for the beginning of the contest for showing up late to a pre-game meal. Penders said he was the most surprised person in the building, where jubilant fans rushed the floor, not expecting to win the game.

    Things are different this time around with a more established program and a team that plays by a motto saying, “”Find a way to win.””

    “”We expect to win,”” Penders said. “”We’re not saying because it’s Arizona we expect to win. I just think kids have a lot more confidence than they had a couple years ago. I was very surprised because I didn’t know how our kids would react to a game like that. I didn’t know how the kids would respond to that kind of a crowd.””

    In a weak Conference USA, where No. 2 Memphis could be the league’s only team to reach the NCAA Tournament, Penders knows his squad needs to “”win a lot of games”” to have a shot, estimating Houston must win 24 or 25 games to have a chance at the Big Dance due to its weak schedule.

    A quality win over Arizona would provide a nice boost to the Cougars’ tourney hopes.

    “”It’s big,”” Penders said. “”I’m not going to play it down because it’s the way with our league, it’s still a growing league. We do have some better teams, but we can’t rely on our league to get us into the tourney.

    “”The Arizona’s and Kentucky’s are important games for us.””

    And 1

    UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill isn’t the only coach in Saturday’s game having a tough time digesting Arizona’s 64-59 overtime loss to ASU Wednesday.

    “”I know I’m not over that game last night,”” Penders said Thursday morning of the UA game. “”I was rooting hard for the Wildcats not only because we play them, but I like those guys and Kevin’s a good friend.””

    They figure to disagree on some calls Saturday, but they were likely in agreement about a few from the ASU game.

    “”Big-time carry, palming by the guy (ASU guard James Harden) driving to the bucket,”” Penders said.

    Lance Madden contributed to this report

    More to Discover
    Activate Search