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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat



    UA forward Jordan Hill dunks two of his 17 points in an 84-71 win over Utah during the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Miami. This is the first time in three seasons the Wildcats have advanced past the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in three years.
    UA forward Jordan Hill dunks two of his 17 points in an 84-71 win over Utah during the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Miami. This is the first time in three seasons the Wildcats have advanced past the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in three years.

    No. 12 Arizona 84, No. 5 Utah 71

    MIAMI -ÿThe Wildcats have slain the beast.

    Not only was Arizona able to take down Utah’s 7-foot-2, 265-pound center, Luke Nevill, by putting him in foul trouble early on, but the Wildcats also took down the beast that has a fierce way of haunting 63 other teams in the nation, and has done so to Arizona for the past two seasons: The first round of the NCAA Tournament.

    For the first time since 2007, the No. 12-seed Wildcats (20-13) made it past the opening round, beating No. 5-seed Utah (24-10) 84-71 in AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Friday evening.

    Already, the Wildcats have outperformed themselves from last year, winning one more total game and advancing in the tournament.

    But the Wildcats feel they are better than last year, even beyond the numbers.

    “”One hundred times better,”” said UA senior Fendi Onobun.

    It has to do with the switch from the rough-around-the-edges Kevin O’Neill to the lovable Russ Pennell, UA’s interim head coach who spoke to the media after the game eating a chocolate chip cookie, wearing a gold tie on a baby blue shirt, an NCAA pin on his coat’s lapel and an inviting smile on his face.

    His personality has certainly rubbed off on his players.

    “”The chemistry from last year just wasn’t there. This year, the chemistry is excellent,”” said junior Jordan Hill, who was one of four Wildcats to score in double figures, scoring 17 and pulling down a game-high 13 rebounds. “”This year, everybody’s doing everything together. Last year everybody was on their own and (did) what they wanted to do. This year everybody’s together trying to help each other out, on and off the court.

    “”It’s not just the staff,”” Hill added. “”We just all know what we want. To have a good team, we’ve go to have a good team and love each other.””

    The chemistry showed on the court Friday night, as the team took down the beast.

    And to be sure, no beast goes down without a fight.

    Nevill was supposed to be the main event for the Utes. The Wildcats had to take him down and work around him to have a chance, and they did just that.

    Hill drew a foul from Nevill just 2:45 into the game with his first run against the Utah center in the paint. Hill made 1-of-2 shots from the charity stripe, putting the Wildcats up 6-4 – a lead the UA never surrendered.

    When Hill couldn’t find a way past Nevill inside, he dished it out to Budinger just 53 seconds later, and the UA forward drew the second foul from Nevill, putting Utah’s big man on the bench for just under 4 minutes.

    Nevill only played 10:46 in the half, contributing 2 points and 2 rebounds.

    While Nevill was on the bench during the 4-minute stint, Arizona went on an 11-0 run, putting them ahead 14-4.

    “”He’s a big dude. He is a big dude,”” Hill said of Nevill. “”He’s real long. He blocked one of my shots and I was like, ‘Damn,’ because he really didn’t need to jump.””

    Nevill came back and played for 16 minutes in the second half – much of it with four fouls – and contributed 10 points in the closing 20 minutes.

    But it wasn’t enough. UA point guard Nic Wise was able to work his way around the center for multiple layups. He scored a game-high 29 points, matching a season high as well.

    With 8:15 left, Wise sank one of his two 3-pointers to put Arizona up 63-53. With the shot, the point guard scored 9 straight points for the Wildcats.

    “”When he gets going it energizes the rest of us,”” said UA wing Chase Budinger, who scored 20 points to go with 8 rebounds. “”He’s the head of the dog for us.””

    Nevill committed his third foul against Hill at the 16:10 mark and his fourth against Budinger with 14:38 left. But the Wildcats weren’t able to get the center to foul out.

    “”He’s a bear. He’s their point guard to be honest with you,”” said UA forward Jamelle Horne.

    With Nevill still on the court, the Utes made a comeback against the Wildcats.

    With 5:15 left, Utah guard Tyler Kepkay made a 3-pointer from the right corner, bringing the Utes within 2 points, 64-62.

    “”He was his team’s big guy that when he gets them going,”” Horne said of Nevill. “”We’ve had the James Hardens and a lot of great players during the season, but he’s definitely had the biggest impact on a team this season. I feel we did a great job on him.””

    The Wildcats will play No. 13-seed Cleveland State on Sunday at 11:10 a.m., for a chance to be a Sweet 16 contender.

    “”We’ve just got to keep pushing, keep going,”” Hill said. “”We all helped each other out. That was a real big thing that we need to do more, just help each other out on defense, offense, just go out there and attack.””

    Alas, the Wildcats have discovered how to slay the beast.

    And 1

    Arizona is 10-0 this season when scoring 80 or more points.

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