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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Arizona’s downfall of late evident in too-close-for-comfort win vs. mediocre ASU

    UA guard Mustafa Shakur fends off ASUs Serge Angounou to grab a rebound in Arizonas 61-58 win over ASU last night in Tempe. The Wildcats narrowly protected their 138-73 all-time series record against the Sun Devils.
    UA guard Mustafa Shakur fends off ASU’s Serge Angounou to grab a rebound in Arizona’s 61-58 win over ASU last night in Tempe. The Wildcats narrowly protected their 138-73 all-time series record against the Sun Devils.

    TEMPE – Has it really come to this? In a place considered Arizona’s home away from home, where Wildcat fans often drown out the home crowd and the host has won just once in the last 12 games, the Wildcats were happy to barely sneak out of Wells Fargo Arena with a three-point victory.

    As UA head coach Lute Olson repeated several times in his post-game press conference last night: “”We just feel fortunate to get out of here with a win.””

    The Wildcats were indeed fortunate, because there were instances when it looked like they were trying to hand the game back to the Sun Devils on a silver platter.

    Up by four with less than three seconds left, Marcus Williams inexplicably contested a Derek Glasser 3-pointer and was called for a foul. But it wasn’t like Olson hadn’t prepared for the situation; he called a timeout right before the possession and said he told the huddle, “”OK, we’re switching everything, don’t even challenge 3-point shots.””

    “”For those of you who make your living doing something else, don’t put it on the back of an 18- or 19-year-old guy very often,”” Olson quipped afterwards.

    Williams said he wouldn’t have contested the shot if he could do it all over again.

    After 27 games, you’d figure Olson would have figured this team out by now. Yet, some of the mistakes still puzzlehim.

    “”I don’t have a handle on them, and you can see that in the last three seconds when we fouled a 3-point shooter with a four-point lead,”” he said. “”I don’t have a handle. I need a sledgehammer sometimes.””

    The Wildcats ran out to a 12-2 lead but turned the ball over eight times in the first 8:13 and let ASU climb back, then let the Sun Devils hang around until the end.

    “”There were some downfalls, low points that we had in the game that I think we can improve on,”” forward Chase Budinger said. “”We got the lead in the beginning and we gave it up.””

    Turnovers have been a habit for Arizona, especially in the first half. They hampered the team in both losses against USC and destroyed the momentum against ASU.

    For only the third time in the last 12 years, Arizona has turned the ball over more than its opponents for the season.

    “”That’s something that’s plagued us, and it’s too late (for it) to keep plaguing us,”” Olson said.

    Give ASU credit, though. The team that’s lost 11 games by five points or fewer this season was as scrappy as advertised.

    ASU coach Herb Sendek started his four seniors, two of whom rarely play. He’s employed a zone defense all season, even though he has been a man-to-man coach for most of his career.

    Three freshmen play large roles, including yesterday’s leading scorer, Christian Polk, who shoots with worse rotation than a flat tire but still scored 18 points.

    Meanwhile, Arizona’s upperclassmen, Mustafa Shakur, Ivan Radenovic, and Jawann McClellan, shot an underwhelming 3-of-15 from the field.

    “”Thank goodness for Chase Budinger and Marcus in terms of getting key shots,”” Olson said, “”and we got a great game out of Bret Brielmaier, the best he’s played in his time in Tucson.””

    Still, he added: “”There are some others who don’t want to keep this in the highlight tapes for their careers.””

    McClellan, who played only three minutes against UCLA, was the first Wildcat off the bench yesterday, but turned the ball over on one of his first touches and airballed his first shot.

    “”I think what Jawann needs to do is get in the game and be in the game for a little while before he starts pulling up for 3-pointers,”” Olson said. “”He’s a competitive guy on the boards and defensively. He’s just got to let the game come to him.””

    McClellan has been bothered by bad knees, but Olson didn’t use that as an excuse, and McClellan, whose unselfishness after switching to the sixth-man role was noted by teammates and media alike, walked briskly out of the locker room before commenting.

    “”We can talk to him as much as we want, ‘Yeah, we need you, you have to pick it up,'”” Radenovic said, “”but I know he’s a good shooter. He was injured this summer, he came back and played good at the beginning of the season. He got into a little slump.

    “”He’s trying to get out of it, but he’s still sinking into it.””

    The Wildcats shot the ball fairly well, but ASU took care of the intangibles.

    In the first half Arizona out-shot the Sun Devils by 12.6 percent (52.6-40) yet was still down 31-30. The Wildcats were out-rebounded and out-assisted in the first half and shot better from the 3-point line than the free-throw line.

    They showed fire at times. Budinger, who scored a game-high 23 points, not only took charge offensively, but had to be held back after Jeff Pendergraph committed a flagrant foul on Williams.

    “”When one of my teammates goes down, I’m not going to take that, I’m going to get up in another guy’s face and let him hear about it,”” Budinger said.

    But they didn’t show fire all the time.

    “”I think we played great in spurts,”” said Shakur, who tried to change his luck by changing his shoes at halftime. “”It was a case of us just being too energetic at the beginning of the game, trying to make some things that weren’t there.””

    Prior to the win, Arizona had beaten ASU by double digits in seven of the last eight games. With the way both teams had been playing, this game was not destined to have the same result.

    Although Olson can’t quite figure out where this team is headed, he will revel in that at least Arizona can add another point in the correct column.

    “”Just a win, that’s all,”” he said.

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