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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “One family, one goal”

    Each time the UA men’s basketball players get together in a huddle, they break with the same phrase: “”Family.””

    Though he encourages the chant, interim head coach Russ Pennell sometimes rhetorically questions whether his players mean it, or if it is just a term they use.

    “”With family, you’ve got to accept the crazy uncle,”” Pennell said with a smile. “”You’ve got to accept all the warts and stuff that occurs in your family, and you’ve got to love them in spite of it, and I hope that we’re heading in that direction.””

    With 14 wins etched in stone and just 10 guaranteed games to go, many have given up on the Wildcats. Some turned their backs on the program when Lute Olson retired in October, others gave up before that.

    And still, everyone on the team seems to want to prove to those who have adjusted their loyalties that there’s still something worth fighting for throughout the rest of the season.

    And a group of young men united by a significant shared characteristic certainly constitutes a family.

    “”What we’ve been through, there are some people giving up on us and there are people that are staying with us,”” said forward Jordan Hill. “”Basically, we’re playing for ourselves right now. The staff, the players, we’re all playing for each other as a family.

    “”We’ve got to continue to keep doing it, and hopefully people will just hop on the bandwagon with us while we take this hard, long journey,”” Hill added.

    Pennell said he thinks it is important for his players to play for the right reasons. The chest bumps, jersey popping and enlarged egos are things that just take away from the game, he said.

    Sometimes, if you play without those things, you are playing for yourself, he said.

    And that’s not a bad thing.

    “”When you start playing for someone else besides yourself – you have to play for yourself – there’s an accountability,”” Pennell said.

    Tournament on their minds

    Sure, UA players and coaches will tell you that they’re just taking one game at a time, but that doesn’t mean the NCAA Tournament isn’t on their minds.

    After all, they’re flirting with history. A tournament berth would be 25 straight, continuing the longest active streak.

    “”All the stuff we’ve been through, we need something to keep us happy … to have something to look at and wonder. ‘All the things we’ve been through and we still made it – this is a good team right here,'”” Hill said.

    That doesn’t mean people aren’t doing the math to see how many wins it would take to get the Wildcats into the postseason – it’s just not the Wildcats doing the math.

    “”I’ve got friends that call me: ‘Hey, we’ve figured it out. If you’ – well, that’s not the way I want to think,”” Pennell said. “”‘Well, if you win the rest of your home games and do this, and this, and this’ – if it was that simple, none of us would worry about it. It’s not that easy.””

    But the Wildcats have a plan. Pennell tells his players to try to get better each day, and tomorrow will take care of itself.

    The players have taken note.

    “”You always want to be playing your best ball at the end of the season,”” said point guard Nic Wise. “”That’s what we’re trying to do now. We’re coming together better as a team, there’s more camaraderie now. We’re starting to click on all cylinders now.””

    And 1

    Wise will enter Thursday night’s game at Oregon state having played 793 total minutes, which equals his playing time from all of last season – 27 appearances – and is 45 percent of his career total.

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