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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Bruin bash

    Photo by Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

    Arizona 84, No. 11 UCLA 72

    In a time of year that is full of “”bubble watch“” talk, the Arizona men’s basketball team should finally have America’s attention.

    Many backs were turned against the Wildcats at the beginning of the season, but with an 84-72 win over No. 11 UCLA on Saturday in McKale Center before 14,611, Arizona will no-doubt gain more recognition on the national level.

    With white signs that said “”BELIEVE”” on them all around the arena, the Wildcats (18-8, 8-5 Pacific 10 Conference) beat the Bruins (19-6, 8-4) for the first time in nine matchups and have now won seven straight games, including six straight in conference play.

    There’s no questions that serving as underdogs hasn’t affected the Wildcats to this point.

    “”I hope everyone forgets about us and leaves us alone,”” said UA interim head coach Russ Pennell. “”That’s what I would love to see. … I think we’re better flying under the radar.””

    Arizona, which has finally been predicted to make it into the NCAA Tournament by professional analysts and “”bracketologists,”” was beaten by 23 points in Los Angeles last time it met UCLA. This time around, the Wildcats led by as many as 25 points.

    The Wildcats went into halftime leading 49-31, but the persistent Bruins – who have made it to the Final Four the last three years – didn’t give up, going on an 11-0 run late in the second half, only to continue to trail 73-61 at the end of it.

    The Bruins cut their deficit to 9 with 1:33 left in the game, but weren’t able to get any closer.

    “”We knew they weren’t going to give up,”” Pennell said. “”UCLA is very tough minded, and our guys matched that mindset today.””

    UA guard Nic Wise and scored a team-high 26 points, despite not having any assists.

    “”I can’t believe some of the shots he made tonight,”” UA forward Chase Budinger said of Wise, who went 9-for-13 from the floor. “”It was really impressive. He’s been stepping up for us lately. He’s been a clutch player.””

    Budinger (17 points), Jordan Hill (22 points, 13 rebounds) and Zane Johnson (11 points) chipped in for the Wildcats, creating a more balanced offense than UCLA boasted – something that haunted the UA last time the teams played each other.

    UCLA guard Darren Collison also scored a team-leading 26 points, but only one other player besides Collison – forward Josh Shipp – scored in double digits for UCLA. He had 18 points.

    “”People are trying to beat us and knock out our reign,”” Collison said. “”We’ve been the best team in the Pac-10 and they’re going to take it at us.””

    The Wildcats fed off the energy of the Zona Zoo section for all 40 minutes of the game, and then some.

    The team entered the court by going down the stairwell in the Zona Zoo – something Pennell had his players do a few times while he coached at Ole Miss.

    At the end of the game, rarely-used guard David Bagga jumped on the media table on the north end of the court and yelled into the Zoo while waving his arms.

    “”I knew the students would like that, and I think they did,”” Pennell said of the team’s entrance. “”I thought they were really buzzing.””

    With six guaranteed games left in the season and wins over Washington, Gonzaga and UCLA, the Wildcats have primed themselves for a postseason run. But as cliché as it sounds, with rival ASU on deck, Arizona isn’t looking farther into the future as fans and media are.

    Which isn’t a bad thing if you root for Arizona; Pennell said his team still hasn’t peaked.

    “”We were on point from tip-off,”” Pennell said. “”I’m proud of our effort, especially after our first meeting with the Bruins. It’s been a great turnaround in the last five weeks.””

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