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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Cats climbing the conference hill

    Senior point guard Mustafa Shakur rejects a lay-up attempt from Oregon forward Mitch Platt in Arizonas 77-74 win Saturday at Oregon. Shakur shot just 1-of-11 from the field but had to deal with an injured right ankle.
    Senior point guard Mustafa Shakur rejects a lay-up attempt from Oregon forward Mitch Platt in Arizona’s 77-74 win Saturday at Oregon. Shakur shot just 1-of-11 from the field but had to deal with an injured right ankle.

    The last time the Arizona men’s basketball team met USC, Jan. 18, the Wildcats were falling down the proverbial Pacific 10 Conference hill, having lost two of three games entering the contest.

    Then, after yet another defeat to the Trojans in Los Angeles, Arizona lost three of four games.

    But as the setting turns to McKale Center for tonight’s 8:30 contest between No. 19 Arizona (17-7, 8-5 Pac-10) and No. 22 USC (18-7, 8-4), the Wildcats are headed back up on their conference hike, having won three straight, including an upset at No. 15 Oregon Saturday.

    “”This is a very good time for us to start climbing that hill again,”” said UA forward Chase Budinger. “”We were kind of hitting the bottom of the hill, and now we’re starting to climb again.””

    With a win, the fourth-place Wildcats would pass USC by a half-game and guarantee themselves no worse than a tie for third in the Pac-10 by the end of the night, only a week after sitting alone in sixth.

    That goal could come down to how well Arizona does the seemingly simple task of putting the ball in the basket, a job complicated by a USC defense that allows opponents to shoot only 36.9 percent. That figure ranks third in the nation behind No. 6 Texas A&M and Connecticut.

    “”We’re home in a place where we feel comfortable shooting the ball,”” said forward Marcus Williams. “”You’ve got to let it come to you and don’t be in a rush. With the talent we’ve got, we can get the shots we want.””

    Whether or not the Wildcats got the shots they wanted when the teams

    “”This is a very good time for us to start climbing that hill again. We were kind of hitting the bottom … and now we’re starting to climb again.””
    – Chase Budinger, UA forward

    met in the Galen Center, they certainly didn’t succeed in converting them, shooting 38.3 percent from the field, their third-lowest total of the season, and 26.7 percent on 3s.

    In breaking down the tapes from that game, UA head coach Lute Olson saw some things the Wildcats can do better to give the Trojans problems.

    “”We can’t really worry about them,”” he said. “”We just have to focus on how well we play and how well we do things offensively.””

    In the first matchup, freshman forward Jordan Hill made no positive
    impact, playing four minutes, turning the ball over three times, and picking up a pair of quick fouls.

    This time, the Trojans will see Arizona’s best shot-blocking presence, who will be making his fourth straight start. He has averaged 11.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game in his last three games.

    “”I think everybody has seen the effect Jordan has on the game for us,”” Olson said. “”He makes a big difference because of his presence in the basket area.””

    Said forward Ivan Radenovic: “”I think his presence is something that we needed.””

    Arizona also needs to get out to a fast start, Williams said, although that didn’t help in the last meeting, when the Wildcats gave up an early 14-6 lead and trailed 33-29 at halftime.

    “”They’re a team that plays with a lot of momentum,”” he said. “”When they get going, they’re pretty hard to stop from scoring, so if we can jump on them early, that will be a break for us.””

    Overall, this contest represents the first step in an important two-game home stand that will go a long way in determining how far the Wildcats can climb up the Pac-10 standings.

    With the top three conference finishers likely getting favorable seeding in the NCAA Tournament due to the strength of the conference, much is at stake this week, with No. 5 UCLA following the Trojans into town Saturday.

    “”It’s a big week,”” Williams said. “”You never want to get into a situation of blowing it too much out of proportion, (because) you get yourself over-nervous or (have) too much anticipation. You just want to make sure you know they’re regular teams. They put their shoes on the same (way) you do.””

    Williams said Arizona’s confidence stands at a “”good”” level entering the weekend, but he added the squad hasn’t done anything yet because a three-game winning streak is only “”mediocre.””

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