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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Hoops travels to Virginia for first game

    Arizonas Nic Wise, right, goes for a steal against Tyler Haas during the first half of Arizonas 110-56 exhibition game victory against Victoria on Wednesday in McKale Center. Wise and the Wildcats will make their regular-season debut Sunday when they play Virginia in Charlottesville, Va.
    Arizona’s Nic Wise, right, goes for a steal against Tyler Haas during the first half of Arizona’s 110-56 exhibition game victory against Victoria on Wednesday in McKale Center. Wise and the Wildcats will make their regular-season debut Sunday when they play Virginia in Charlottesville, Va.

    Lute Olson has always challenged his teams early in the season.

    But the No. 10 Arizona basketball team is the only squad ranked in the top 25 to open on the road and the first Wildcat squad to do so since the 1986-87 season when Arizona opens its season Sunday at Virginia at 5 p.m. on FSN.

    “”Everything you do in the nonconference is aimed at making you better for the league season and, hopefully, the postseason,”” said Olson, the UA head coach. “”We’ve always tried to schedule games against good teams in difficult places to play because it prepares us for places we’re going to have to play in the league.””

    This is nothing new for an Arizona program that started the 2001-02 season with eight of nine games away from home, including the first two against top-10 squads Maryland and Kansas, and last year’s Murderer’s Row of a Maui Invitational, which included games against top-10 Connecticut and Michigan State.

    Olson said the Wildcats will open the season with the same lineup they started in their exhibition finale Wednesday: guards Mustafa Shakur and Jawann McClellan and forwards Chase Budinger, Marcus Williams and Ivan Radenovic, leaving Radenovic as the only player over 6-foot-7 in the lineup.

    Olson added that guards Daniel Dillon and Nic Wise will crack the initial eight-man rotation.

    “”Probably the question right now is which of the big guys would be the first guy off the bench if we’re looking at eight or nine,”” Olson said, mentioning senior center Kirk Walters and freshman forward Jordan Hill as possibilities.

    Said Hill, “”I’ll just do what I have to do to make that be mine.””

    Walters played just eight minutes in his first game action of the year Wednesday after missing over a month with the aftereffects of a concussion and is still struggling with his conditioning due to the missed time, Olson said.

    Starting away from the friendly confines of McKale Center this early in the year, caused by a commitment the Wildcats made to open Virginia’s new building, will give the UA freshmen – all of whom may crack the rotation – their first taste of life on the road, in Atlantic Coast Conference country no less.

    Olson discussed how veteran leadership often helps newcomers through tough early situations like this in the Arizona program.

    “”Hopefully they feed off of the veterans that have been here and have already been through the hostile environments and they see how we react and how we feed off it and pick up on it,”” said the senior Shakur, “”and I think that’s what’s going to happen.””

    Budinger said he likes playing on the road, with the crowd against him, more than doing so at home.

    But the freshman has yet to face a sold-out, 15,000-person crowd ready to christen a brand-new arena against a top-10 college opponent in Arizona.

    Hill said the veterans told him just to be ready for the atmosphere.

    “”I know when I get there I’ll have a little something in there, but it will go away when I get in the game,”” he said.

    After winning a pair of exhibitions by over 50 points in McKale over the past week, shooting 30-of-54 (55.6 percent) from 3’s and 83-of-153 (54.3 percent) from the field in the games against Team Georgia and Victoria, the Wildcats’ new roster has shown a shooting touch absent most of last year.

    But even with an improved bunch of shooters, Shakur cautioned that the Virginia game isn’t going to be anything like the past two, adding Arizona needs to pick up its intensity.

    McClellan said the Wildcats need to come out and play their game.

    “”We’re really not concerned about what they come out and do, it’s more about what we come out with,”” McClellan said.

    “”We can’t let them stick to a half-court game,”” he added. “”We want to run, run, run, run, and that’s what we’re going to do.””

    Although the Wildcats start their tough nonconference slate with a rough road game many other programs wouldn’t consider scheduling this early, that’s never bothered Olson before.

    “”I think if you take a look at our schedules through the years you’ll see there’s a lot of things that we we’ve done other people haven’t,”” he said.

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