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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Sweet (16) Dreams

    UA forwards Jordan Hill and Fendi Onobun celebrate during a 71-57 Arizona win against Cleveland State on Sunday in AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. With the Win, the Wildcats will play overall No. 1 seed Louisville in the Sweet 16 on Friday in Indianapolis.
    UA forwards Jordan Hill and Fendi Onobun celebrate during a 71-57 Arizona win against Cleveland State on Sunday in AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. With the Win, the Wildcats will play overall No. 1 seed Louisville in the Sweet 16 on Friday in Indianapolis.

    MIAMI – Back in late October, every member of Wildcat Nation thought they were trapped in a twisted nightmare.

    Players backed out of commitments, Lute Olson retired and an ASU radio announcer was asked to lead a crumbling historic Division I basketball program.

    Less than five months later, Wildcat Nation is having sweet dreams. Turns out, they are Sweet 16 dreams.

    The No. 12-seed UA men’s basketball team (21-13) beat No. 13 Cleveland State (26-11) 71-57 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday in AmericanAirlines Arena. Arizona advanced to the Sweet 16, where they will play No. 1 Louisville (30-5) in Indianapolis, Ind., on Friday at 4:05 p.m. Tucson time.

    “”We’re headed to the Sweet 16, and we’re on a mission; we’re on the road to redemption right now,”” said UA forward Jamelle Horne, who scored 15 points. “”Everyone counted Arizona out, but we’re here to play.””

    Arizona is the lowest-seeded team left in the NCAA Tournament and almost didn’t make it into the Big Dance, but the Wildcats never thought they were out. About five weeks ago, Dewey Pennell, director of basketball operations and and father of UA interim head coach Russ Pennell, said during a coaches’ meeting the team was going to get the Sweet 16.

    “”I looked at him and thought, ‘Man, are you crazy or what?'”” the younger Pennell said.

    A little more than a week ago, UA point guard Nic Wise told his team in the locker room after the Wildcats lost to ASU in the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament he wanted to be in the National Championship game in Detroit on April 6.

    “”That’s the way we’re playing,”” said Wise, who scored a game-high 21 points against Cleveland State. “”We know we can be here and we have the talent to do it. We’re proving it now, and we’re peaking at the right time.””

    But no one ever said it was going to be a smooth ride to greatness.

    Wise and fellow juniors Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill found themselves in fairly serious foul trouble Sunday.

    Hill and Wise each finished the game with four fouls. Budinger, Horne and Kyle Fogg finished with three fouls apiece.

    At one point, Pennell had all three juniors on the bench at one time -ÿsomething that has never happened in the first half this season.

    With Hill out, senior Fendi Onobun gave the Wildcats some minutes as the big man.

    With 4:53 left in the half, Cleveland State guard Cedric Jackson leaped for a layup on a fast break, but was hit in the eye by Onobun. Jackson had to sit out for a few moments, and Trevon Harmon shot Jackson’s free throws, making 1-of-2, and cutting the Vikings’ deficit to 28-15.

    “”I knew that when coach called me in there I was going to have to be physical, get a couple good fouls and knock guys around,”” said Onobun, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound forward.

    The Wildcats went into halftime leading 35-25 and led by double digits for most of the game until CSU started to make a comeback in the second half.

    A Jeremy Montgomery layup with 12:44 left cut Arizona’s lead to 46-40.

    Norris Cole made two straight baskets in which the ball rolled around the rim for what seemed like an eternity before falling, bringing CSU within four points, 48-44, near the midpoint of the second half.

    But in the end, the Vikings’ poor shooting performance haunted them. They made just 37.3 percent (22-for-59) of their shots, including a frigid 3-for-23 outing from beyond the arc.

    Arizona shot 50 percent (22-for-44) from the floor and made 24-of-28 shots from the free throw line.

    “”We’re still playing with a chip on our shoulder,”” Fogg said. “”We feel good that we’re playing in the Sweet 16. But we want to keep going with this. The foul trouble was different than anything we’ve seen before, but luckily guys like (freshman guard) Brendon Lavender came in and stepped things up.

    “”I’m just glad to keep playing,”” Fogg added. “”A lot of teams are at home watching us on TV and our team’s taking a part of it.””

    The story that is being written – or the dream that is being dreamt – is like something from Hollywood. But Pennell said he doesn’t want to be an author for the script.

    “”What I’ve learned to do, not only in basketball and coaching, but in life,”” Pennell said, “”is you’ve got to be real careful not to write the script. You kind of let it happen.””

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