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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Resolve stays firm in victory

    The excitement, anxiety and flat out nervousness in the building may not have been spared on any of the fans in attendance in McKale Center last night, but the players were as calm as a typical night sky in the Arizona desert.

    On the heels of a three-game losing streak Tucsonans under the age of 22 have never witnessed, the Wildcats almost let another game slip away from their hands. But they didn’t, and a chance at the NCAA tournament lives for at least another game.

    “”I just told myself we’re not going to lose no matter what,”” junior point guard Mustafa Shakur said. “”We’re not going to walk out of there with a loss and that’s what we did, exactly what (Arizona head coach Lute Olson) said, refuse to lose.””

    Down by five with 1:52 left to go, Arizona’s chances looked bleak. When the Wildcats huddled up during an Oregon timeout with 55 seconds left, after blowing several double-digit leads, you would expect the tension could be cut with a knife.

    “”We never gave up, at the timeout with (55 seconds) left to go, we got together, we said we’re here together, we’re a family, and we’re not going to lose this one,”” said junior forward Ivan Radenovic.

    Arizona’s 1-3-1 zone defense suffocated Oregon’s offense for the entire first half, but Oregon wouldn’t go away. Sophomore guard Chamberlain Oguchi took advantage of the 3-point opportunities the zone offered and made 6-of-15 3-pointers en route to 21 points. Looking at the box score, Olson couldn’t believe Oguchi missed nine 3-pointers.

    “”I thought he made every shot,”” Olson said.

    When the Ducks rallied, Arizona’s offense sputtered, and the momentum changed hands.

    “”There was moments when you didn’t really know what was going on,”” Radenovic said. Against Southern California, the Wildcats faced a similar situation, down by five with a little over a minute left.

    “”It’s hard to describe that feeling when you’re losing with a minute and 30 seconds left to go,”” Radenovic said.

    “”We lost against USC when we were down five. This time, I don’t want to say we were lucky, but they missed big shots, Brooks turned it over and it was crucial for us to get those rebounds.””

    The Wildcats may have been lucky, indeed. Oregon senior guard Brandon Lincoln was double teamed in the corner with the Ducks up by one and lost the ball, as junior point guard Aaron Brooks couldn’t hold onto the loose rock. Arizona took advantage with Brooks’ counterpart Shakur, driving the lane and receiving the benefit of the doubt on a questionable blocking call on junior guard Jordan Kent.

    The Wildcats have never felt comfortable with a lead throughout the season, blowing big leads against Stanford and California, and they were on the verge once again.

    “”I kind of feel more comfortable with that kind of pressure where we have to win a game, and I think we need to step into every game with that kind of attitude,”” Radenovic said.

    As for Shakur, at the free throw line with 12 seconds left and the game and possibly the season on the line, he said he couldn’t feel the pressure one bit.

    “”I just told myself to concentrate and do the same thing I’ve been doing at the free throw line,”” Shakur said.

    “”I didn’t feel nervous at all.””

    In fact, Shakur said there was no one he would rather have with the ball in that situation.

    “”I want the ball in my hands in that opportunity,”” Shakur said.

    Junior center Kirk Walters agreed.

    “”I knew he was going to make them, I didn’t have any doubt,”” Walters said.

    Meanwhile, Walters, a guy who has struggled with confidence, scored a career-high 18 points and made a key basket with 29 seconds left to play to cut the lead to one.

    “”Once we got within one, we knew we were going to come back just because we had the momentum going, we were feeling good,”” Walters said.

    At a time when a loss would have put Arizona into double digits in the loss column, and with their backs at the wall, the Wildcats showed they would not go down without a fight.

    “”We showed the guts on this team, and we fought back,”” Walters said. “”We needed this victory and we fought to get it.””

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