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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Cats must step up after unprecedented loss to ASU

    Sophomore forward Chase Budinger sits at his locker following Sundays 59-54 loss to ASU in McKale Center. Budinger only shot 1-for-12 in the game.
    Sophomore forward Chase Budinger sits at his locker following Sunday’s 59-54 loss to ASU in McKale Center. Budinger only shot 1-for-12 in the game.

    A day after Sunday’s ASU-Arizona debacle, the numbers still haven’t sunk in from the Wildcats’ astoundingly bad offensive performance.

    It’s disgraceful that Arizona players (not named Jerryd Bayless) made three field goals in 23 attempts during an entire 40-minute game, a total Bayless surpassed alone in the contest’s first five minutes.

    Arizona turned into such a one-dimensional team that ASU sports information director Doug Tammaro joked after that the game that it felt like a contest between Phoenix St. Mary’s High School, Bayless’ old school, and Artesia (Lakewood, Calif.) High School, the alma mater of Devils guards James Harden and Derek Glasser if only Harden had been ASU’s big scorer instead of forward Jeff Pendergraph.

    Although Bayless always controlled his games in high school and took the majority of his team’s shots, there could not have been many occasions when he got less help from teammates possibly bound for a future playing at the Student Recreation Center than he got Sunday from teammates with NBA futures.

    UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill lamented not getting forward Jordan Hill more attempts, especially after Hill dominated the Sun Devils in their first meeting, but he seemed to put the onus on forward Chase Budinger for just missing shots in his 1-for-12 performance.

    “”I still like the shots Chase got most of the night,”” O’Neill said. “”He got wide-open looks.””

    The loss has opened O’Neill up for loads of criticism from a fan base not willing to get used to losing to ASU.

    Say what you want about Lute Olson leaving the cupboard bare for O’Neill as far as depth goes, but Olson always found a way to beat the Sun Devils even with similarly-talented teams the past two years.

    Olson has gone 43-7 in his career against ASU. Meanwhile, O’Neill has now lost to the Devils more times this year than Olson did in his past 25 meetings.

    Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star bluntly ended a column published Jan. 9, the day of Arizona’s initial game in Tempe, concerning the pressure on O’Neill to sustain the dominance in this rivalry by writing, “”Don’t blow it.””

    Although the players were quick to shift blame away from O’Neill, blowing two games against ASU won’t be very forgivable to a fan base that has always had the “”Wait ’til basketball season”” comeback in its arsenal to use against annoying Devils fans at football games.

    Among other things, the Arizona Daily Wildcat message boards online blasted O’Neill for failing to make the necessary adjustments on the backdoor screen ASU kept running for Pendergraph that helped him win conference player of the week honors after scoring 29 points. That’s nine less points than the previously-struggling Pendergraph had scored in his past five games combined.

    O’Neill has been steadfast in his refusal to bring back Hill after he picks up two fouls, as he did at the 14:43 mark before sitting the rest of the first half, during which time Pendergraph’s 20 first-half points changed the complexion of the game.

    For 12 minutes the 6-foot-9 Devil was matched up against Arizona’s 6-foot-6 forward Fendi Onobun, an obvious mismatch that ASU exploited to the max. In the past O’Neill has basically said the Wildcats would be screwed if he brought Hill back early and he picked up his third in the first half, but that would be a worthy gamble since Arizona was screwed without him.

    For all of Hill’s foul trouble, he has fouled out just once, so it would be worth it to at least bring him back later in the first half with him having no reliable backup.

    It’s no secret the Wildcats “”weren’t the same team”” without Wise, as O’Neill said, just like they weren’t the same team earlier in the year when Bayless missed four games with a sprained knee.

    But Arizona still should have beaten an ASU team that came in reeling having lost five in a row, especially with the schedule only getting tougher from here on out besides a trip to conference doormat Oregon State, who is the only team Arizona has beaten when playing without Bayless or Wise.

    The injury isn’t the Wildcats’ only concern, as Hill did not seem to take too kindly to something Bayless said to him after Pendergraph dunked on him late in the game. That could just be an isolated moment in the heat of a frustrating battle or it could be a sign of a crack from a team that’s professed all year to be so tight.

    “”Some of us, a lot of us, we all need to step up as a unit,”” Bayless said. “”We all need to start making shots, we all need to start playing together more, we all just need to get on the same page because we’re definitely not.””

    In an incredibly crazy Pacific 10 Conference season Arizona’s year has yo-yoed more than most, looking bad going into Kansas, winning six in a row after that defeat, looking bad without Bayless, winning four in a row in league play and now looking atrocious the past two games.

    But things could keep going down before they go back up if last weekend is any indication.

    -Michael Schwartz is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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