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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Cats NCAA tourney chances bleak

    Must-win game after must-win game.

    Hell, can anybody remember an it’s-okay-if-they-lose game this season?

    Last night, the Wildcats faced a de facto win-or-stay-home-for-the-NIT game – barring an improbable run through the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament.

    But then again, you’ve seen more bizarre things happen.

    Like improbable defeats to UAB and USC. And even more improbable victories over Houston and UCLA.

    But during the non-traditional season, UA interim head coach Russ Pennell began hoping to avoid “”embarrassing”” the program, the Wildcats are pinned up against the harsh reality of playing in the NIT Tournament once dubbed “”Never In Tucson.””

    “”I still think (NCAA Tournament chances are) there,”” UA interim head coach Russ Pennell said. “”I think the window is closing. If you looked around America last night, it seemed like everyone on the bubble lost. Somebody’s gotta make it. We gotta try to take care of one ball game at a time.””

    UA wing Chase Budinger added: “”We’re really not thinking about (the Tournament). We’re just playing one game at a time, that’s about it.””

    Thursday night’s extraordinary circumstances could be viewed through both lenses. As advertised outside of McKale Center before tipoff, ticket scalpers hyped up the evening as “”Lute’s night,”” giving fans the incentive to “”honor the legend one final time.””

    Would it be the night Olson’s most coveted streak continued with a win that would all but secure Arizona’s 25th straight NCAA Tournament appearance? Or add an extra dose of closure to an emotional halftime ceremony.

    Addressing the largest crowd of the Olson Era, the Hall-of-Famer said: “”This is a basketball town, and keep it that way.””

    Ex-Wildcat, and current Phoenix Suns GM Steve Kerr, ended his speech by saying Arizona’s 25th straight Tournament is only a few weeks away.

    But on the evening that brought public closure to Lute Olson’s legacy at Arizona, Thursday night might have also marked the evening that his NCAA Tournament streak ended.

    How fitting.

    “”We need to win Saturday,”” Pennell said. “”It’s that simple. We need to win a basketball game Saturday. They can be disappointed about tonight. But to sit around and say, ‘poor us,’ that’s not going to help anybody. I still think there’s enough opportunities for us.

    “”Is that margin of error thin? Yes it is,”” he added. “”We would make a good amusement park ride. We’re like a roller coaster ride. We go up and down.””

    Pennell knows his team’s NCAA Tournament chances hang on a limb with one game remaining on the regular season schedule.

    They’re 18-12, losers of four straight games and 8-9 in the Pacific 10 Conference. Heading into Thursday night,’s Joe Lunardi positioned the Wildcats as the last at-large bid after stringing together a mid-season run.

    So where are the Wildcats that won seven straight games earlier this season?

    “”I think it’s our collective effort,”” Budinger said. “”I think just some guys get down on themselves and they perform poorly, not offensively but on the defensive end. That’s really where we rise to the occasion.””

    Wise fouling out crippled ‘Cats

    The referees? Less than favorable to the hometown crowd. Wise fouled out with 1:41 remaining in the game – closing the window for any Houston-like final-minute comeback.

    The Wildcats trailed by 5 at that point, but were able to cut the lead to 3 with 26 seconds remaining.

    “”It hurt,”” Wise said. “”I felt like I got a couple bad calls on the offensive end. It hurts my team when I can’t be in there. As we saw at Texas A&M. It discombobulates our offense. It’s tough in a game like that.””

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