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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Christmas break a certainty this season

    Hoops Notes

    Christmas might not have come for the Arizona men’s basketball team last season.

    Going into the final three games before Christmas last season, then-interim head coach Kevin O’Neill told his players they wouldn’t get a brief respite for the holiday if they didn’t play well.

    That’s not the case this year.

    Whether they win or lose against Kansas on Tuesday night in McKale Center, players will have Christmas eve and Christmas day off, giving them a chance to return home, if only briefly. They will return to Tucson on Friday.

    “”I’ve always felt it’s very important, even if they’re home for a few hours,”” said interim head coach Russ Pennell. “”I think it’s so important this time of year that they get to see everybody that they need to see, and it just reassures them everything is fine at home.

    “”All of us here know Christmas is such a special time,”” Pennell added, “”and it’s important that they can be with their family for a little bit.””

    Instead of using a chance to go home as motivation like O’Neill did, this year’s UA coaches and players are using a possible win over the defending national champions, along with preventing a losing streak, as an incentive to do well.

    “”This kind of mindset is that you never want to have two losses in a row, and also you never want to go into Christmas break with a loss on your back,”” said Wildcat forward Chase Budinger. “”I know that during Christmas time I’ll feel a lot worse if I’ve had two losses in a row, but if we’re able to get this win (on Tuesday), Christmas will be a lot better for us. That’s how I’m looking at it.””

    Christmas with the Pennell family

    Pennell said he will spend the morning with his immediate family in Tucson on Christmas, then he plans on driving up to the Phoenix area to spend time with his sister and her husband, his brother and his parents.

    The traditions, the coach said, aren’t very irregular. Decorations and holiday music are standard. What does stand out, however, is that the UA coach and his family have made a pact to make sure they’re all together at least one day during the holidays.

    Three years ago, his sister was in England on a Fulbright fellowship, as she is a teacher. But that didn’t mean the family had to be apart.

    “”We all went to England for Christmas,”” Pennell said.

    Getting gifts for his family, however, doesn’t come as easy as setting a pact.

    With practice being held around noon on Sunday, Pennell figured he’d get some of his Christmas shopping done at the mall.

    “”Bad decision by me,”” Pennell said. “”Sunday, I literally walked in there, spent 15 minutes and left. … I’m a Christmas eve shopper.””

    The Kansas native

    Pennell, a native of Pittsburg, Kan., grew up more as a Kansas State fan than a Kansas fan, but he very much appreciated the Jayhawks, he said.

    “”Growing up in that state, you understand how important the Jayhawks are,”” Pennell said. “”Arizona fans would understand the love of basketball there. They’ve had a pretty good run for 25 years here, too.

    “”The thing about KU, it’s just so storied, year after year,”” Pennel said. “”It doesn’t matter who the coach has been through time. It’s just one of the great programs in the country.””

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