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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Slow starts annoying, but don’t faze Arizona”

    LAS VEGAS – Thirty minutes after the No. 19 Arizona men’s basketball team edged Nevada-Las Vegas 52-49, Jamelle Horne approached his coach, Kevin O’Neill, and asked him a question in the visitors’ locker room in Thomas & Mack Center.

    “”Hey Coach,”” the forward said, smiling. “”Can we have a practice tonight?””

    O’Neill just laughed and shook his head.

    The question from the freshman came in the wake of another Wildcat win that almost didn’t happen. It’s become the unofficial theme of the team: Start slow, make Wildcat fans nervous, then crank up the heat toward the end for the win.

    The Wildcats did it again Wednesday night against UNLV before 13,676, trailing for all but 39 seconds in the first half and taking their first lead with 1:18 left in the game.

    Quite frankly, some of the Wildcats are tired of it.

    “”I don’t wanna be the comeback kids any more,”” said UA guard Jawann McClellan, who scored 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting in almost 40 minutes. “”We knew coming in that they were going to play hard and hit shots. When you have an elite-level program (written) on your chest, they’re going to come out and give it their best shot.””

    Still, others aren’t fazed by the by the slow starts anymore. To some, it doesn’t matter that the Wildcats didn’t score their first point until 1:55 into the game and trailed the entire first half before forward Jordan Hill tied the game at 28 with a long jumper near the arc.

    Their nine turnovers to UNLV’s two in the first half means nothing to some players. In fact, the pattern of sloppy play early has given the Wildcats a since of reassurance.

    “”I was never worried about losing this game because we’ve been in this situation before,”” forward Chase Budinger said. “”We go down by 20, we probably will still think that we’re still in the game. So this is actually making us a better as a team, just to be able to grind games out.””

    Though Arizona did come back from a 20-point deficit against then-No. 9 Texas A&M in Tucson on Dec. 2, it only had to come back eight points against the Runnin’ Rebels.

    “”(UNLV) executed like they were supposed to and took us out of our game plan,”” O’Neill said. “”But we did a good job hanging around. Even down eight a couple times, we hung around and gave ourselves a chance to win.””

    The game was very reminiscent of the Wildcats’ matchup with Illinois on Dec. 8, when they scraped up a 78-72 overtime win.

    In the game that was played in the United Center in Chicago, where the NBA’s Bulls play, Hill scored 23 points and pulled down 14 rebounds and guard Nic Wise was the fire starter off the bench, draining 11 points and dishing out eight assists. With Budinger and guard Bayless slow offensively, Hill and Wise stepped up.

    It was déjÇÿ vu for the Wildcats, as a similar situation occurred against the Runnin’ Rebels.

    Hill led the team with 16 points and 19 boards and Wise was a boost of energy with nine points and seven dimes. Meanwhile, Budinger scored six points – it’s just the seventh time in his career he hasn’t reached 10 – and Bayless netted eight.

    “”I don’t care, we won,”” Bayless said of his shallow offense. “”Whatever. I’m not going to shoot perfect every day.””

    But what Bayless did do is step up defensively. He guarded UNLV guard Jo’Van “”Wink”” Adams for most of the game and Adams led all scorers at the half with 14 points (5-for-8 shooting), with six points coming from behind the arc. He was hot and it seemed as though he was going to take down the Wildcats by himself.

    But McClellan, who grew up living next door to Adams in Houston, gave Bayless a tip for the second half, one that allowed the Wildcats to grab the lead and keep it.

    “”I told J.B. how to play him,”” McClellan said. “”You can just tell when he’s about to pull up and hit a 3 because of this look in his eye. I told J.B., ‘Play him how you play me in practice.’

    “”That just goes to show that (Bayless) can do more than score. He scores so much that a lot of people don’t look at him defensively, but he did a great job.””

    In the second half things changed, as Adams did not score until the 8:07 mark, scoring just five points in the half.

    Neither team shot well in the game, with Arizona shooting a cool 34.6 percent (18-for-52) and UNLV netting just 31 percent (18-for-58) of its shots. But the numbers can be deceiving. The Rebels scored just four points in the last 8:07.

    “”We knew they were going to level off and cool off,”” McClellan.

    After the Wildcats play San Diego State on Saturday, No. 2 Memphis and a slew of Pacific 10 Conference teams are on deck. With the schedule only getting tougher, the Wildcats need to play better from the get-go, McClellan said.

    “”It takes a lot of energy to come back and we can’t do that against elite teams,”” he said. “”UNLV is a top-35 team in my mind, don’t get me wrong, but we just can’t keep doing that.””

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