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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Nonconference play sets Wildcats up for big year

    Arizona forward Ivan Radenovic puts up a layup in the first half of No. 9 Arizona’s 79-71 win over No. 18 Memphis Wednesday in McKale Center. Radenovic scored 18 points and battled a pair of large Memphis forwards as the Wildcats’ only starting big man.

    Lute Olson always uses the nonconference schedule to give his squad a taste of what’s to come later in the year.

    Mission accomplished this season.

    After playing the nation’s toughest schedule to date according to, and capped off by Wednesday’s win over its first ranked opponent of the year in No. 18 Memphis, the Wildcats enter the conference season hot with nine straight victories after a season-opening loss at Virginia.

    But more importantly, Arizona has played a variety of styles from Houston’s lightning pace to Samford’s deliberate one, a physical contest against the athletic Tigers, as well as a few tough road environments at Virginia and San Diego State and neutral-court showdowns against Illinois and Louisville.

    “”We played different types of team, and I really think that it paid off for us,”” said Olson, the UA head coach.

    As Arizona has stuck with a small lineup of guards Mustafa Shakur and Jawann McClellan and forwards Chase Budinger, Marcus Williams and Ivan Radenvoic in all 10 games, the Wildcats rely on quickness and athleticism over size and power.

    Just like Illinois’ 245-pound forward Shaun Pruitt, Memphis’ 260-pound forward Joey Dorsey and 290-pound forward Kareem Cooper were a load inside against the Wildcats’ small starting lineup, in which 240-pound Ivan Radenovic is Arizona’s lone inside player.

    Although Olson pointed out that opposing bigs often have difficulty defending a player like Radenovic who can shoot 3-pointers and drive to the basket, the Wildcats will be just as vulnerable to a dominant inside player all season long.

    “”I know we’re going to face stuff like that over the course of the year,”” Radenovic said. “”I’ve got to get there.””

    Olson is not sure whether senior center Kirk Walters will be able to return to the lineup from his bout with Mononucleosis and is preparing as if Walters won’t, so the continued improvement of forward Jordan Hill could become important down the road.

    Although Radenovic has played very well thus far, the 6-foot-9 athletic freshman could be needed to either spell Radenovic against a dominant center or help him out on the boards if Arizona wants to go with two bigs in a way that 6-foot-6 forward Bret Brielmaier may not be able to against taller opponents.

    “”Jordan is getting better every day,”” Olson said. “”We need for that to happen.””

    Hill had fallen out of favor with the coaching staff after Nov. 19’s game against New Mexico State, in which he picked up two fouls in two minutes of play, after seemingly breaking out the game before Nov. 15 against NAU when he scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds in 18 minutes.

    “”You’ve got to be ready to be in,”” Hill said, adding playing against Dorsey was good competition but that he has to box out harder. “”When we played New Mexico State I really wasn’t ready. That’s why I haven’t gotten much P.T. lately. Now I’ve been at practice ready, doing my thing.””

    Arizona has seemingly learned from its one slip-up during the nonconference season, the opener against Virginia Nov. 12. In that contest Arizona held a 19-point first-half lead before falling 93-90 after a poor second-half defensive effort in which Arizona gave up 57 points on 59.3 percent shooting.

    “”Definitely against Virginia we learned how we shouldn’t play,”” Radenvoic said. “”We’ve picked up our intensity, especially on defense.””

    The Wildcats were the only top 25 team to start on the road – to open an Atlantic Coast Conference school’s brand-new building nonetheless – but that’s the type of loss Olson doesn’t mind if it leads to improvement, which has certainly been the case on the defensive end. Arizona’s past four opponents have shot 36.2 percent from the field, after the Wildcats’ first six shot 44.0 percent.

    “”If you look at where we started defensively and now, it looks like night and day,”” Olson said.

    After an impressive nonconference season, one in which they could be a 3-pointer away from an undefeated record and No. 2 national ranking, the Wildcats have to avoid the upset bug in Pacific 10 Conference play, which starts Dec. 28 against California.

    “”You have to play every possession,”” McClellan said. “”Teams are going to be gunning for you because you have ‘Arizona’ across your chest. Memphis is a great team, but if they would have won this game it probably would have made their season. …We’ve got to take it one game at a time.””

    The Wildcats have set themselves up in their usual place as one of the nation’s top teams and will be in position for a No. 1 seed come tournament time if things go as Olson expects they will.

    “”This is not a team that’s going to plateau I don’t think,”” he said. “”This is a team that will keep getting better because they play hard, they practice hard, and they really enjoy playing together.””

    Click here for a recap of the game

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