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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UCLA rivalry renewed

    UA guard Nic Wise pulls up for a shot during an 83-76 Wildcat win against USC Thursday night in McKale Center. Wise scored a game-high 27 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with less than a minute left.
    UA guard Nic Wise pulls up for a shot during an 83-76 Wildcat win against USC Thursday night in McKale Center. Wise scored a game-high 27 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with less than a minute left.

    Commentary

    The Big Game has arrived.

    Arizona vs. UCLA, isn’t it always?

    Saturday’s marquee matinée matches up the hottest team in the league against the hottest dynasty in the conference on CBS national television. If last night’s crowd of 14,728 – the third largest in McKale Center history – is any indication, another overpacked house will be treated to another big-game stage.

    Tucson’s most expensive ticket on StubHub.com got that much more valuable with Arizona’s six-game winning streak set to collide with an eight-game losing streak against No. 11 UCLA.

    It’s Arizona vs. UCLA: The only force that can line up students – no matter how hungover – hours early for an 11 a.m. tipoff on a Saturday morning.

    The Wildcats (17-8, 7-5 Pacific 10 Conference) won’t have much time to savor last night’s quality win. They never do.

    Although splitting with the Los Angeles schools – home or away – can certainly be considered a success these days, the vibe heading into Saturday will be far from satisfaction.

    “”Winning can become a poison too,”” UA interim head coach Russ Pennell said after the game. “”We will certainly look at the positives, but we have to correct the negatives. I don’t think we’ll be overconfident.””

    Despite a season-high five Pac-10 victories, there’s no false sense of security heading into Saturday, just as the Wildcats never felt comforted by a lead as big as 18 points in the first half of last night’s 83-76 win over USC.

    Of all teams Arizona knows 40 minutes of basketball means 40 minutes of basketball, buzzer to buzzer.

    After the first 10 minutes, it looked like the Wildcats could single-handedly rely on 3-pointers to not only embarrass the Trojans, but score enough (80 points) for free tacos at Jack In The Box.

    Although the 3s kept raining in the desert, Arizona knew statistics would even out.

    For the first 7:40 of the game, Arizona shot a perfect 8-for-8 from the floor, giving them a 28-4 lead. The Wildcats made eight of their first nine 3-point attempts.

    “”We were just on fire at the beginning of the game,”” UA wing Chase Budinger said. “”The way I feel is percentages always come around. I knew we were coming down to earth.””

    Added Pennell: “”As a coach, you know that’s a little bit of fools gold. Sometimes you can get this false security. It almost came too easy. The basket was big and the ball was going in the hole, and I knew this is the Pac-10. You’re not going to blow anybody out.””

    USC crawled back and temporarily took command of the game, leading by as much as 8 points with 15:80 remaining.

    Rewind the calendar to mid-January in Los Angeles, and there’s no way this team has the confidence to close out a close game.

    Although that Jan. 15 game in the Galen Center is considered the pivotal turning point upward – when Arizona began playing with intensity and heart – the end result was still a lost team searching for a late-game identity.

    But on the 12th of February, the Cardiac ‘Cats are a team of the past.

    You know their new thing, with that second half outburst that’s becoming more signature than Lute Olson’s perfect silver hairdo.

    “”I just feel we’re a better team now,”” Budinger said of this team in comparison to the squad that lost 65-64 at USC. “”This was a game that we needed. What happened down at USC kind of stuck with us. We wanted to get this win very badly.””

    A deafening more-than-full capacity crowd in McKale Center was also a big difference.

    And with a 74-67 loss at ASU last night, both the Bruins and Trojans head into Saturday hoping to salvage a split in the Desert.

    “”It was a very physical game. When that tends to happen, your emotions come out,”” Budinger said. “”It was one of those up and down type games, and for us I think we just used the crowd as much as we could. We just used that as motivation.””

    Saturday will be The Big One.

    Until next weekend.

    And the weekend after.

    “”We’ve been taking this one game at a time,”” Budinger said. “”That’s the only way we see it.””

    – Bryan Roy is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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