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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Comeback kids strike

    Roman Veytsmansports editor
    Roman Veytsman
    sports editor

    EUGENE, Ore.- Lute Olson said beating Oregon was Arizona’s biggest win since Oregon State. Wrong.

    It was Arizona’s biggest win of the season.

    When ESPN puts Arizona’s resume on the screen, under “”key win”” it will read at No. 13 Oregon.

    This was the Wildcats’ signature win of the season to date. Take a pen, sign “”Arizona Wildcats”” on the dotted line and date it Feb. 10, 2007.

    If Chase Budinger – 30 points, 10 rebounds – is any indication, this is what you would call a bounce-back team. And Saturday’s was its bounce-back win.

    Budinger has scored in single digits four times this year. He managed five points against San Diego State, eight points against Washington State, four against Oregon and four against Oregon State. In the four games following his less-than-Herculean efforts, Budinger put up a cool 15, 16, 14 and 30, respectively.

    “”He found his open looks, he knocked down shots, he was kind of a hero during this game,”” said forward Ivan Radenovic, who could have worn the “”hero”” label himself in hitting the game-winning shot.

    As for Arizona, the same team that lost six of eight games came away with its second weekend sweep of the season and its first road sweep, as well as a three-game winning streak.

    This isn’t Andre Iguodala’s 2003-04 team. No one has the NBA on speed dial just yet, and these guys aren’t talking on their cell phones before the game. They care a lot more. Forward Marcus Williams said the loss at home to Oregon was “”painful,”” and prior to the game, they discussed payback.

    “”That’s what we were talking about in the locker room before we went out there, ‘It’s going to be a payback victory,'”” said Williams, who bounced back from a three-point first half to score 13 points in the second.

    Radenovic bounced back himself. He had four points in the first half and was a non-factor. Until the 7:19 mark of the second half, Radenovic had only eight points, but then the Serbian, at whom Oregon fans chanted “”U.S.A.,”” came alive.

    “”We had to pick up intensity on the offensive end,”” Radenovic said. “”I told myself, ‘It’s time, right now, to do something.'””

    Radenovic scored the next six points before eventually hitting the game-winner.

    Remember, this is the same team that won 12 games in a row this season against the likes of Memphis, Illinois, UNLV, New Mexico State and Louisville. It’s the same team that experts said had one of the best starting fives in the country.

    Oregon guard Bryce Taylor noticed.

    “”Player by player, they are probably the best team we play,”” Taylor said.

    But there was something different this time.

    “”They were a different team than when we played them last time,”” he said. “”You could just tell they wanted to win.””

    And winning this one in particular should only give the Wildcats the confidence they possessed early in the season. A few weeks ago, when “”we hit a low,”” according to Budinger, Arizona may not have had the will to make the necessary plays to win the game after the type of poor-shooting first half it had against Oregon, but now, he said, “”we’re playing again.””

    “”When they were playing so poorly and were down score-wise and everything, they came out in the second half and really came out with a real authority and a toughness because they had to if they were to have any chance at all,”” Olson said.

    Moreover, it was the environment in which Arizona did it. Not with the crowd behind the Wildcats and not with momentum on their side. It was a win when the odds were against them.

    “”It’s a test of maturity,”” Radenovic said. “”Only inexperienced players get affected by a crowd, and I think we did a pretty good job. We didn’t get affected. Whenever they had their momentum we took our time.””

    It was the patience Arizona did not have against Washington State when it rushed shots at the end of the game and gave the contest away. Nor was it the same situation against Oregon the first time when Arizona failed to make enough defensive stops when they counted.

    “”It gives the team a lot of confidence,”” Williams said. “”We got a tough one, it was a big one because it was a tough one. We grinded it out on the road in, I think, the toughest place to play in the conference.””

    Added guard Jawann McClellan, the team’s spokesman when it comes to courage and heart:

    “”Even when we were down at the end before Ivan, we were like, ‘I think this is going to be the same exact way it ended up down in Tucson,’ and it was. We showed a lot of heart, and we stuck together as a team. We fought through it, and we got a win.””

    Tucsonans called for Olson to retire on message boards and throwing in the towel on the season. But they forgot that after 48 years on the job, Olson knows a thing or two about winning.

    He just doesn’t know how much his guys needed this one.

    Roman Veytsman is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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