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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Into the Jayhawks’ nest

    UA guard Jerryd Bayless drives to the basket during Arizonas 75-72 loss to Virginia Nov. 17 in McKale Center. Bayless said he feeds off hostile road environments like the one he will face Sunday at 6 p.m. when the Wildcats play at No. 4 Kansas.
    UA guard Jerryd Bayless drives to the basket during Arizona’s 75-72 loss to Virginia Nov. 17 in McKale Center. Bayless said he feeds off hostile road environments like the one he will face Sunday at 6 p.m. when the Wildcats play at No. 4 Kansas.

    The Arizona men’s basketball team faces a most unenviable task Sunday in its 6 p.m. visit to Allen Fieldhouse, an arena that has left many opponents in a “”Phog”” over the years.

    Not only will the Wildcats (3-1) face the No. 4 Jayhawks (4-0) in Lawrence, Kan., but they will do so in the raucous atmosphere of a 53-year old stadium that has sold out for 96 straight games, helping Kansas lead its conference in attendance for 21 straight years.

    Not exactly an ideal environment for the young Wildcats, who count three freshmen and three sophomores among their rotation players.

    “”It’s a very tough atmosphere to play in, but we’ve got to do the best job we can,”” said guard Jawann McClellan, who visited the stadium as a recruit. “”We can’t worry about Allen Fieldhouse. (Texas) A&M went in there last year and beat them.

    “”They’re Kansas but we’re Arizona, too. They know we’re coming to play, so we’ve just got to do a good job of keeping our composure. We can’t make a lot of mental mistakes when we go in there.””

    One of Arizona’s freshmen, forward Jamelle Horne, said that kind of atmosphere gets his teammates going, many of whom would rather play on the road than in the friendly confines of McKale Center.

    Freshman guard Jerryd Bayless faced a rough crowd every night on the road in high school with the reputation of being one of the state’s best players preceding him. But none of those crowds came close to the 16,300 screaming fans he will oppose in Lawrence.

    “”I feed off that personally a lot,”” Bayless said. “”I love it when everything’s against you, so I’m definitely going to feed off that.””

    Forward Chase Budinger played one of the best games of his career in hostile territory last season, scoring 30 points on 12-of-21 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds in Feb. 10’s upset of then-No. 13 Oregon in ear-splitting McArthur Court.

    Budinger expects another “”crazy”” environment, although he said he’s not sure if another crowd could beat Oregon’s fans.

    “”Hopefully it’s going to be like Oregon,”” Budinger said. “”It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be rowdy, people are going to be yelling at you from all different angles, and we’ve just got to come out ready to play, and I’m excited for that game.””

    UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill said there’s nothing he can say to his players who have never experienced that environment, saying they just have to go through it for the first time on their own.

    “”It’s obviously a tough place to open up on the road, but hey, let’s go,”” O’Neill said. “”Let’s find out what we’ve got, and it’ll be different for them, but it’s just the way it is.””

    Said McClellan: “”We’re not scared at all. It’s a gym. They put their shorts on just the same as us. As far as I’m concerned, the court is 94 feet, 50 feet wide, we’ve got to go in there and play with them. We’re not concerned about that.””

    If the environment does not do the trick, the Wildcats will soon find out there’s more than a little bit of difference between Missouri-Kansas City and Kansas.

    The Jayhawks average 92.8 points per game (eighth nationally) on 55.5 percent shooting (third nationally) to opponent’s 40.3 percent shooting, and Kansas outrebounds opponents by 6.2 per game. The balanced Jayhawks feature four players averaging double figures, although leading scorer Sherron Collins will miss the game after surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot.

    Arizona is expected to be the Jayhawks’ first test of the season, but Kansas has looked awfully impressive in outscoring opponents by an average of 31.3 points per game, with the closest victory a 23-point win over mutual opponent Missouri-Kansas City, whom the Wildcats beat by 19.

    With that in mind and in the wake of Arizona’s slow starts in all four of its games, three of which the Wildcats were expected to win handily, McClellan said, “”We most definitely can’t start out slow when we get to Kansas; we’ll be down by 20.””

    Although Budinger downplayed the importance of the game, saying every contest is important for the Wildcats to win, Bayless noted Arizona would certainly rejoin the national top 25 with a victory after dropping out last week.

    “”We have the bodies, we have the athleticism, and we have the coach, so we just got to put all those together and make it happen,”” Horne said.

    Although Arizona enters as heavy underdogs after four lackluster performances going into an environment as tough as Allen Fieldhouse, a win could go a long way for the Wildcats.

    “”This is an important game, confidence-wise, because we’re such a young team,”” McClellan said. “”If we can go in there and get this win – I don’t want to say steal because that’s saying you’re not supposed to win – it’ll be a big win.””

    And 1

    The contest is a part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series, which continues Dec. 2 when the Wildcats host Texas A&M. … Ron Franklin and Jay Bilas will call the game on ESPN, marking Arizona’s first of six scheduled appearances on ESPN or ESPN2 this season. … The Wildcats won their last game in Lawrence in 2003, beating the Jayhawks 91-74 in a game that ended Kansas’ 25-game home winning streak and was their most lopsided home defeat in 14 years. Arizona overcame a 20-point deficit in that game during a trip in which three players were accused of stealing candy from a vending machine in their Lawrence hotel. … Kansas ranks second in consecutive tournament appearances (18) to Arizona’s 23.

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