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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    No school means clearer focus

    Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless dribbles up the court during a 69-50 win over Fresno State Sunday in McKale Center. The Wildcats hit the road for the first time during winter break Wednesday at Nevada-Las Vegas.
    Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless dribbles up the court during a 69-50 win over Fresno State Sunday in McKale Center. The Wildcats hit the road for the first time during winter break Wednesday at Nevada-Las Vegas.

    No. 19 Arizona at Nevada-Las Vegas

    There are two obvious sides to being a student-athlete, and sometimes one can get in the way of the other.

    But now that school’s out for the winter, the No. 19 Arizona men’s basketball team can concentrate solely on its first road game of the break when the Wildcats (7-2) go up against Nevada-Las Vegas (7-2) Wednesday night at 8 in the Thomas & Mack Center in a contest televised by CSTV

    No homework, no reading, no study halls in hotel conference rooms. Just basketball.

    “”I think that has to help,”” said UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill. “”They’re going to get more sleep. They’ll get more rest. They’ll be off their legs more. Hopefully they will eat better than they do when they’re on the run.””

    Said forward Chase Budinger: “”No school is always good. It’s just pretty much all basketball. It gives us time to rest and bond together.””

    Without the academic rigors, the game will have the players’ undivided attention. The Wildcats last went on the road to face Illinois in Chicago on Dec. 8, the weekend before a dark cloud of final exams hung over the campus at Arizona.

    “”When we played against Illinois, I had a final to study for because I had the test right when I came back,”” said forward Jordan Hill. “”So I was thinking a lot about that, but I was also thinking about winning the game. … Now we can go out there and think about basketball and get better and better every day.””

    Though the Wildcats got the best of the Runnin’ Rebels last year, winning 89-75 in Tucson, Arizona went on to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, while their counterparts reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1991.

    It’ll be a test for the Wildcats to get a win on UNLV’s home court, where the Rebels have won 19 of their last 20 games.

    “”They’re not going to be a pushover,”” said forward Jamelle Horne. “”We’re going to prepare for anyone like they’re the No. 1 team in the nation.””

    O’Neill said the same thing about UNLV that he’s said about so many other opponents: If Arizona doesn’t play its best basketball, it won’t have a chance to win.

    “”I never go into any games thinking we should win,”” he said. “”I really don’t. I approach every game the same way. To me, every game is a big game. And I know that sounds ridiculous … but you’re not getting that game back.””

    The Rebels make up a well-balanced team that boasts three players averaging around 13 points per game, with guard Curtis Terry, the half-brother of former Wildcat and current NBA star Jason Terry, pulling the wagon averaging 13.8 points per game.

    But guard Jo’Van “”Wink”” Adams brings the energy for the team, often going on hot streaks.

    Growing up in Houston, Adams, a 6-foot junior, lived next door to Arizona’s Jawann McClellan, a 6-foot-4 senior guard. They played high school ball a little more than 14 miles apart with Adams attending Gulf Shore Academy and McClellan going to Milby High School.

    But the distance didn’t keep the two guards from noticing each other.

    “”I knew he was a good player,”” said McClellan, who saw Adams when he went home last summer. “”Wink has come a long way, especially his jump shot. He wasn’t much of a shooter coming in (to UNLV). … But he got better and better and worked on his game, and here we are.””

    Like the Rebels, the Wildcats also have three players averaging double digits in scoring, with freshman Jerryd Bayless leading the team with 20.0 points and 4.6 assists per game.

    Bayless dazzled the crowd in McKale Center in a win over Fresno State Sunday with a bounce-pass to Horne, who leapt through the air for a massive, crowd-rising dunk.

    “”When he steps up, he steps up,”” Horne said. “”That’s all I can say about J.B., man. He comes to play every game, no doubt about it.””

    After the Wildcats play UNLV, they host Saturday San Diego State and then visit No. 2 Memphis on Dec. 29 before conference play begins. O’Neill said the timing is perfect with the players not having school to worry about until mid-January.

    “”We can lift for an hour in the morning, we can practice for three (hours) in the afternoon, we can do some scouting stuff,”” O’Neill said. “”We can have Basketball University here until they go back to school.””

    And 1:

    This is the first time the Wildcats have traveled to Sin City to play the Runnin’ Rebels in 17 years. The two teams have played each other 14 times since 1972, with UNLV leading the series 9-5.

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