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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Don’t call it revenge, but Wildcats do just that to Illini Saturday”

    PHOENIX – Before Arizona met Illinois Saturday in a rematch of the Wildcats’ epic collapse from a 15-point lead with four minutes to go in the 2005 Elite Eight, senior Mustafa Shakur talked about not getting overhyped.

    Senior Ivan Radenovic said he had “”kind of”” gotten over the game that cost the Wildcats a Final Four appearance.

    It was just in the back of junior Jawann McClellan’s mind and UA head coach Lute Olson only wanted to talk about this week.

    But in the rematch in downtown Phoenix that the Wildcats refused to name as such, they had to take some measure of satisfaction in battling back from a 16-point hole in the first half to turn the tables on the Illini in an eventual 12-point victory.

    It was a comeback that was slow and painful for Illinois, as it took the Wildcats 14:42 of game time to complete a 34-16 surge to re-take the lead, as opposed to Illinois’ 20-5 blitzkrieg of the Wildcats in the last 3:50 on that fateful March day about 20 months ago.

    It was a nice twist of fate for Arizona, but the Wildcats refused to take any satisfaction in this so-called revenge.

    “”People probably want me to say this is a payback, but for me this is a game, just one of them on the way to the finals,”” Radenovic said.

    Said McClellan: “”I’m just happy we came back and gutted out the win to show everybody that we’re not a typical Arizona team.””

    Still, even as the Wildcat lead swelled to 10 with 46 seconds left, Radenovic knew the contest wasn’t over. After all, he had seen his squad blow an eight-point lead with under a minute left the last time these squads got together.

    “”I kind of thought about it by the end of the game… and I was like, ‘You know, it’s not going to happen again,'”” he said. “”I’m going to get the ball, whatever they do, that ball’s going to be mine. They can foul me, they can try to take the ball away from me, but we’re not going to lose.””

    The UA partisan crowd – complete with pep band, cheerleaders, mascot and about three-quarters of the 15,000 people in attendance – also helped turn the tide, not unlike what Illinois’ fans did two years ago, when the “”Orange Crush”” did its part in making Arizona unravel.

    “”It made a big difference (from last time),”” Radenovic said. “”They push you up, especially on a run, when the fans are all cheering with us.””

    UA head coach Lute Olson also said the crowd was great, comparing it to a playoff atmosphere. Suns owner and UA alumnus Robert Sarver came up to him after the contest and said he wishes he could get that kind of crowd in the stadium for Suns games.

    “”Sometimes you go to a pro arena, and they sit back and have their hot dogs and say, ‘OK, entertain us,'”” Olson said. “”I didn’t feel the crowd was that way at all here for either school.””

    One disconcerting factor in the victory was that Olson clearly has little confidence in his bench at this point of the season when a game’s still in doubt.

    The Wildcats played just two reserves, forward Bret Brielmaier and guard Daniel Dillon, for a total of 17 minutes. They combined for no points and a rebound and assist.

    On the other side of the ledger, only McClellan (33 minutes) played less than 36 and Shakur played the entire contest, as all five starters scored at least 13 points.

    “”They’ve got to get some depth,”” said Illini head coach Bruce Weber. “”I don’t even know if they played (the bench).””

    Although Olson clearly wants his best five on the floor together as often as possible, at some point during the nonconference schedule he’s going to need to figure out who can play some key minutes to spell the starters in conference play and beyond.

    But for this day, the Wildcats can revel in their revenge, whether they admit it or not.

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