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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Big road test awaits No. 17 ‘Cats

    Ari+Lerner+%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AChase+Budinger+soars+over+Memphis+Robert+Dozier+in+the+second+half+of+the+Fiesta+Bowl+Classic+held+at+the+McKale+Center.+The+Wildcats+won+the+game+79-71+after+being+down+9+points+in+the+first+half.+
    Ari Lerner / Arizona Daily Wildcat Chase Budinger soars over Memphis’ Robert Dozier in the second half of the Fiesta Bowl Classic held at the McKale Center. The Wildcats won the game 79-71 after being down 9 points in the first half.

    The task may seem daunting, and the No. 17 Arizona basketball team knows it.

    But senior guard Jawann McClellan seemed relatively unfazed regarding the job at hand, even if it involves facing a No. 2 Memphis team with an undefeated record (10-0) and playing in an arena where the home team hasn’t lost in 37 games, dating back to the 2005-2006 season.

    A win would up the Wildcats’ win streak to seven games, but more importantly would give the team even more momentum as it prepares for the start of Pacific 10 Conference season, which begins Thursday in McKale Center against Oregon State.

    “”We know this is a big game,”” McClellan said of tomorrow night’s 8 p.m. contest televised by ESPN2. “”Of course there’s a lot at stake. We know if we go in there and beat these guys, our confidence is going to be rolling.

    “”But we’ve got to take it as every other game. They’re gonna be ready to play us and we’re gonna be ready to play them.””

    The last time the two teams met, the Wildcats used a strong second half to propel past the Tigers in a 79-71 victory in McKale Center. That was also the last time the Tigers lost a regular season game, a span of 373 days and 29 games.

    The Wildcats saw a complete reversal of fortune, going on to lose 10 of their final 21 games of the season.

    “”If you’re winning these games its fine,”” said UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill about the matchup. “”If you’re in the middle of struggles it’s not fine, but overall it’s preparing us for what’s coming down the line, and that’s a tough Pac-10 schedule.””

    The Wildcats, just like last season heading into the Memphis game, currently hold the No. 1 RPI in the country.

    The Tigers may be favored to win, but the Wildcats take pride in playing – and winning in some cases – with some of the best teams in the country, like then-No. 4 Kansas and then-No. 9 Texas A&M.

    Tomorrow’s matchup may top them all, however, in level of difficulty.

    “”We’ve wanted to play with some of the best teams and we’re definitely doing that,”” said forward Chase Budinger. “”It’s going to help us in the end.

    “”I knew that coming here I’d be playing in big-time games. We have the No. 1 RPI right now, we’re playing in nationally televised games, big-time games, and this Memphis game is one of those games.””

    The Wildcats currently hold the same ranking as the one they held at the beginning of the season, but McClellan said there is still much room for improvement, citing slow starts and “”foolish turnovers.”” A lot of the problem, he said, is due to a fountain of youth.

    “”We don’t want to do what K.O. calls an energy timeout,”” McClellan said. “”That’s when he just gets into us. We need that sometimes, for him to get into us and get us going because sometimes you’re so pumped up for games that you are making foolish mistakes. That’s why I think we need to just grow up and settle down at the beginning of games.””

    The Wildcats may not be able to afford getting off to another slow start at the FedEx Forum, where the Tigers handily beat then-No. 5 Georgetown, 85-71, last Saturday.

    Memphis averages 80.5 points per game with the No. 2 RPI in the country. Arizona, on the other hand, has only scored 80 points three times all season.

    The Wildcats will use the same starting five as the last four games, likely minus forward Bret Brielmaier, who suffered a separated shoulder in last week’s 74-58 win over San Diego State and is questionable.

    The team has thrived in harsh environments thus far, coming back from behind in what was supposed to be a neutral Chicago crowd to defeat Illinois on Dec. 8, as well as against Nevada-Las Vegas on Dec. 19. The Wildcats also forced overtime at Kansas, widely regarded as another one of college basketball’s loudest arenas.

    O’Neill said he hopes the experience will help the players.

    “”I would hope that that won’t affect us as much as it would if you’re going out there for the first time,”” he said.

    McClellan added: “”We’ve got the No. 1 RPI. We control our own destiny.””

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